Warriors need to be quick starters
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
Red firecracker paper will be on the driveways and resolutions will yet to be broken when the University of Hawai'i men's volleyball team prepares for a new year.
"I like this team," said head coach Mike Wilton, who will welcome 18 players for tomorrow's first practice. "We're going to find out a lot about ourselves real quick."
Indeed, the Warriors will have two practices to cement a lineup for Wednesday's 7 p.m. exhibition against British Columbia in the Stan Sheriff Center.
The rematch is Friday.
The Warriors will open with an active roster of 19, down from a high of 26 during fall training.
Outside hitter Matias Brizuela of Paraguay will rejoin on Jan. 8, the first day of UH's spring semester.
Five players completed their NCAA eligibility in April.
Middle blocker Dio Dante, setter Brian Beckwith and opposite attacker Lauri Hakala are the only players who started in the Warriors' final match of 2006.
But middle blocker Kyle Klinger and outside hitters Eric Kalima and Jacob Schkud have experience as starters.
Wilton said Hakala, a third-year senior who was named to the All-America first team, and Kalima, a fifth-year senior, were selected as captains by teammates and the coaching staff.
"Everybody votes," Wilton said. "It was a significant victory by both of them. They lead by example."
A look at this year's team:
Candidates: Beckwith (6-6, Sr.), Sean Carney (6-3 So.), Nejc Zemljak (6-1, Fr.).
Outlook: In four years, Beckwith, who was named to the All-America first team as a junior last season, has gained strength and confidence. His transformation coincides with the Warriors' move to quicker offense last season.
Beckwith, the tallest setter in the program's history, also has developed into an efficient blocker and escape-from-trouble passer. Last year, Beckwith helped UH lead the country in hitting percentage (.347).
Carney, who doubled as a designated server, played well in the fall. "Sean is pushing hard, and that's good, because it makes Brian better," Wilton said. "Brian is aware of Sean's presence. He worked pretty hard in the fall."
Zemljak will redshirt.
Candidates: Dante (6-7, Sr.), Klinger (6-8, Jr.), Matthew Rawson (6-8, Fr.), Keali'i Frank (6-6, Fr.).
Outlook: Dante suffered torn ligaments in his right thumb and missed the final six weeks of fall training. Tomorrow will be his first extending blocking workout since October.
"He can hit," Wilton said. "Probably right now it's the psychological aspect of going up and blocking a ball with that thumb."
Klinger has fully recovered from a broken right big toe that forced him to miss a month of matches last season. After fall training, Wilton declared: "Kyle Klinger right now is our top middle."
Rawson, who answers to the nickname "Dragon," is challenging for a spot in the rotation.
Frank, an All-State player from Punahou School, will redshirt.
Candidates: Hakala (6-1, Sr.), Steven Grgas (6-7, Fr.), Jim Clar (6-2, So.), Nemanja Komar (6-3, So.).
Outlook: Hakala speaks five languages and also understands two others. But he is most fluent in volleyball, leading the Warriors with 441.5 points last season.
The man who came in from the cold he was stationed in the Arctic Circle as a Finnish soldier averaged a sizzling 3.96 kills per game and hit .373. At 6 feet 1, Hakala relies on his vertical jump and voima force to rocket shots past the block. His spikes travel at close to 70 mph.
"Nobody else (on the team) is close to hitting as hard," associate coach Tino Reyes said.
Hakala also has improved as a passer.
Grgas, a converted middle, is competing for playing time.
Candidates: Kalima (6-0, Sr.), Schkud (6-4, Jr.), Mark Ribeiro (6-2, So.), Ernie Vidinha (6-4, Fr.), Matthew Vanzant (6-2, Fr.).
Outlook: In the "cauldron system," in which players are awarded points for performances in practices and matches over a 12-day period, Kalima emerged as the top outside hitter. He also entered last season as the cauldron leader, earning early starts, but his effectiveness diminished after he crashed into a support pole while trying to make a save. Kalima is now healthy and, as the L2, will serve as a primary passer.
Schkud, who also can play in the middle, is poised to start at the other left-side spot, which receives more sets. Wilton said Schkud also will be used as a fourth passer.
Ribeiro, who was used sparingly as a freshman, and Vidinha, who played at Kamehameha Schools before redshirting last season, have made dramatic improvements.
Candidates: Ric Cervantes (5-11, Fr.), Justin Ching (5-6, Fr.), Michael China (5-10, So.).
Outlook: By virtue of being the only libero to participate in all of fall training, Cervantes enters with a slight lead.
China, a Punahou School graduate, played at Lewis for a season. He enrolled at UH last year, and contacted the coaches in the fall. After passing a physical examination and signing waivers, China was cleared to practice.
"We looked at him at some small-group practices at the end of the semester, and we thought he was worth an extended look," Wilton said.
Ching, a Mid-Pacific Institute graduate, tried out at the beginning of the fall, but quit, citing time constraints. Later, he asked to rejoin. "I told him 'no' a couple of times, but he persisted," Wilton said. "I gave him another chance."
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.