Different routes, same goal for UH, UCLA
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
It was only a matter of time that the philosophies of tonight's volleyball opponents — UCLA and Hawai'i — would converge.
UCLA believes the future is now. UH has tried to live in the present.
Every move UCLA made this season was designed to prepare for tonight's quarterfinal match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament in the Stan Sheriff Center. The winner of the eight-team MPSF playoffs earns an automatic berth in the NCAA final four.
"It only matters what you do in April or May," UCLA coach Al Scates said. "All you have to do is get into the playoffs and be playing well at the end of the season. I play a lot of players during the early season, and give people experience. In the end, we go with people who are the best. I do it to make sure the best are playing their best at the end of the season. If you don't play all of your players early, how do you know how they'll perform in games?"
Scates' decision to continue playing Matt Wade at setter, even after senior Dennis Gonzalez recovered from a knee injury, allowed the freshman to gain confidence. Wade, who will start in Game 1 tonight, has helped the Bruins win nine in a row.
The Warriors, meanwhile, have embraced the mantra of "living in the moment" — a philosophy in which they force themselves not to dwell on the past or future. That approach enables them to treat tonight's match the same as any other this season, despite the lose-and-pau consequences.
"If you focus on what's happening now, and do what you're supposed to do, everything should work out," said libero Alfee Reft, UH's captain.
Last June, UH coach Mike Wilton sent each player a letter in which he stressed the live-in-the-moment approach.
The point was reinforced during fall training, when Wilton implored the players not to fret over every mistake. But the feeling of regret is a natural instinct, and great literature is based on the question of "What if ... "
Setter Brian Beckwith said not dwelling on mistakes goes "against human nature, but we've been doing it for so long, we've really embraced it."
UH floor captain Matt Carere said: "It takes a lot of practice, and some times are harder than others."
In fall training, Beckwith recalled, the coaches would stop practices when it appeared a player was losing focus. "They wanted to make sure we were taking care of the little things," Beckwith said.
"The thing is," Carere said, "if you make a mistake and you keep on thinking about that mistake, then you're going to repeat it. The idea is your mind can control what the next play is. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. You don't need to relive them over and over. If you make an error, you need to realize it's not the end of the world."
The approach has been successful. The Warriors enter tonight's match with a program-record 19 victories in a row.
Here's a look at the match:
A few days before the start of last year's playoffs, Gonzalez suffered a season-ending broken finger. He was 15-3 as a starter, and without Gonzalez, the Bruins were ousted in the first round. Last month against UH, Gonzalez suffered a high-ankle sprain. This time, Wade, the son of former Rainbow Wahine volleyball player Rocky Elias, has developed into an efficient starter. The proof is in his teammates' success. Scates said the Bruins are hitting close to .400 when Wade is the setter. Both are expected to play against UH.
Beckwith has embraced the Warriors' up-tempo offense, often lofting lead sets to in-motion attackers. He also has expanded his game; his average of 0.90 blocks per game is third among the MPSF's 14 primary setters. Beckwith suffered a bone bruise below his right kneecap last week, but is coping with ice treatments.
UCLA opposite attacker Steve Klosterman is physically fit from last year's shoulder surgery. Klosterman's recovery was closely monitored. At the beginning of the season, he was not allowed to play on consecutive nights, and was placed on a 15-swing limit per match. "Gradually, his (right) arm got stronger," Scates said. "He's able to hit 50 balls a match."
Klosterman's improved health allowed Damien Scott to move back to left side. Scott and the other left-side attacker, Paul George, are the team's most powerful hitters. "They both can bring it," Scates said.
Neither, however, hits as hard as UH opposite attacker Lauri Hakala, whose spikes have been clocked at up to 73 mph. Left-side attacker José José Delgado also can break 70 mph. Their strong swings make them threats from behind the 3-meter line — Delgado off pipe sets, Hakala from the back right.
Freshman Sean O'Malley effectively hits over blocks, but the tradeoff was his pedestrian passing. "We were basically a two-man receiving team," Scates said. Scott's move to the left side (replacing O'Malley) restores his role as a primary passer, and Scates said, gives the Bruins "a three-man passing system. (Opponents) can't serve wherever they want." O'Malley did not practice Thursday because of a pinched nerve in his neck. He remains on the travel roster.
UH has the benefit of four athletic passers — Alfee Reft, outside hitters Delgado and Carere, and opposite attacker Hakala. Hakala's acrobatic dig against Brigham Young was the Warriors' best this season.
"Good passing is about keeping your mind on each serve, not thinking two plays behind or two plays ahead," Reft said.
Middle blocker David Russell (30 serves), outside hitters Scott and George, and opposite Klosterman can disrupt opponents with sizzling jump serves. Their strength can be traced to season-long weight training.
"We've lifted heavy all year, and it probably hurt us in February and early March," Scates said. "We kept going. Now we're very strong."
For UH, middle blocker Dio Dante has joined Hakala, Delgado, Carere and Beckwith as an effective jump server. UH is focusing not on aces, but in putting the ball in play. "We have good defensive players," Beckwith said. "We need to give them a chance to do their thing."
UH's Dante is the nation's No. 2 blocker, averaging 1.71 per game. "The fact that we have such a fast offense helps me to practice against a faster tempo," Dante said. "When we play teams that don't have as fast of an offense, it makes my job easier."
In training camp, Jamie Diefenbach was the Bruins' best blocker. But he suffered a torn meniscus in the season's second week, and despite improved health, has not been able to regain his starting job.
Scates said Russell (0.97) and Nick Scheftic (1.01) are better blockers than their statistics show. "The box (score) just shows stuff blocks," Scates said. "It doesn't show whether we control the ball (after the block) and convert the point. When the middle back gets a free ball (off a tip or non-scoring block) and we convert, that's a good block. They're both good control blockers."
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