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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 27, 2004

Warriors outlast UCLA in five games

 •  Game statistics

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

UH's Brian Beckwith celebrates after Hawai'i tied the match against UCLA, sending it to a fifth game.

Associated Press

The Stan Sheriff Center rocked and, after early obstacles, the top-ranked University of Hawai'i volleyball team rolled to a pulsating 26-30, 30-28, 25-30, 30-26, 15-9 victory over No. 2 UCLA last night.

"To beat UCLA, all I can say is, 'Wow,' " said UH outside hitter Matt Bender after emerging from the 12-man group hug in the post-match celebration.

"I'm just so happy," UH opposite hitter Pedro Azenha added. "I wanted to win so bad."

An evening downpour kept attendance to 4,365, but that did not douse the enthusiasm in this battle of long-time rivals.

This was the first time these teams entered a match Nos. 1 and 2 since the 1996 NCAA championship, won by UCLA in five games. The Bruins have won 18 national titles under head coach Al Scates.

Minutes after Azenha finished off aloha ball with a shot that trickled between a double block and the net, Bender announced: "There are few things sweeter than beating UCLA. Winning a million dollars in the lottery could be one thing, but there aren't many more. It's good to beat UCLA. But the best part is we beat the UCLA mystique."

But not all feel-good stories have happy beginnings, and the Warriors struggled early to pass the Bruins' sizzling jump serves.

"I think we were trying to pass too well, trying to get the ball too close to the net," UH middle blocker Joshua Stanhiser said. "That resulted in a lot of passes on top of the net and a lot of overpasses. That was kind of hurting us."

So, too, was the Bruins' pick-a-poison offense. The Bruins found points on quick sets to the middles and from blasts behind the 3-meter line.

The Bruins won two of the first three games. But the crowd was energized first by Alan Hackbarth, the self-styled "Rubberband Man" who performed his elastic dance moves during timeouts, and then by the power hitting of Azenha, left-side hitter Delano Thomas and outside hitter Josˇ Josˇ Delgado.

"When we were down two games to one, we said, 'Look, we can win this (fourth) game,' " Stanhiser recalled. "All we had to do was play hard and play well. We stepped it up."

The Warriors broke away in Game 4, thanks to Delgado's angle shots. Then Azenha, a 6-foot-7 opposite hitter, took over, tooling a shot off a double-block for a 29-26 lead and finishing off the game with an ace that dipped in front of libero Adam Shrader.

The Warriors led 6-4 in the first-to-15 final game, but consecutive rotation errors on UH enabled the Bruins to tie it at 6.

It was 7-all before UH scored four unanswered points to take control. The Warriors went ahead 8-7 when Damien Scott, who was a receiver on the Bruins football team in the fall, served long.

Then Thomas rejected Marcin Jagoba. Azenha followed by serving an ace and then scoring off a roll shot over a double block.

Azenha finished with a match-high 24 kills, scoring three of the final four points.

"Everything worked out good," Azenha said.

The Bruins, who entered as the nation's most accurate hitters, felt otherwise. They committed 29 hitting errors and hit an ordinary .292. Their best hitter, freshman Steve Klosterman, was pulled in Game 2 after committing more errors (seven) than kills (six).

"They played well, but we gave them a couple of games," UCLA quick hitter Chris Pena said. "We definitely could have done a whole lot better. ... It's a tough one to swallow. I don't plan on swallowing any more of these things. ... We definitely gave them a few points on a silver platter in the second and fourth games. That can't happen again, and it won't happen again."

As UCLA's Scates walked toward his car in the wet parking lot, he struggled for answers as to how this one slipped away.

"I would say they played well at the end," Scates said. "They served tough and they hit well. That was the difference. ... I have to look at the tape (of the match) and figure some new things out, go to Plan B."

Thomas contributed 21 kills for the Warriors, who improved to 11-2 overall and 8-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

The Bruins fell to 12-3 and 7-3.

Quick hitter Paul Johnson led UCLA with 16 kills.

The rematch is tomorrow night.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8051.

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