Bender's healing not complete
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
Despite improved health, University of Hawai'i opposite attacker John Matt Bender does not believe he will be ready to compete against fourth-ranked Long Beach State in volleyball matches Thursday and Friday in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Bender, a fifth-year senior, has not played since suffering torn ligaments in his left ankle during the second practice of training camp last month.
His shin-high cast was removed three weeks ago, and he no longer needs to wear a boot brace. He resumed light practicing last week, but did not accompany teammates on the weekend road trip against Pepperdine.
He left open a slim chance of being available this week, saying, "weirder things have happened. But I don't think so, which is a big bummer."
Bender said he does not experience any soreness.
"It feels good, but I don't want to over-do it," he said. "I don't want to have permanent problems for the rest of the season. ... There's no pain in the tendons. It's a little swollen. It's healing. I don't know what it is, but it's not 100 percent right now."
In Bender's absence, Lauri Hakala, a second-year junior, has developed into a hard-hitting attacker, averaging 3.69 kills per game.
Hakala said he has benefitted from Bender's play in recent practices.
"Bender coming back means we have one more good guy playing on center court," Hakala said. "I like having him out there. He's a senior. He's one of the older guys. His presence brings stability to practice."
Bender said: "If you have two competitors vying for the same position, it makes everybody play better. The competition isn't personal. We're really good friends, so we're always rooting for each other."
The Warriors, meanwhile, are trying to solve the riddle of their uneven performances. In their first three two-match series this year, they lost each of the openers but dominated in the rematches. Last week, the Warriors lost in five to Pepperdine, which was ranked No. 1 at the time, then won in three the next night.
"We want to play our best volleyball every night," floor captain Matt Carere said. "We showed we can do it on the second night. We have to figure out how to do it both nights."
Asked why UH has difficulty in opening matches, Carere said: "I couldn't tell you. I wish I knew. I don't know if we're playing with a little more desperation or tenacity, but we come out and play Warrior volleyball the second night."
UH setter Brian Beckwith said back-to-back matches are a curse and blessing. In the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, matches involving the two non-California teams — Hawai'i and Brigham Young — are played consecutively. Matches between California teams use the home-and-home format.
"In the (opening) match, we're trying to figure out (opponents') tendencies because we've never seen them play before," Beckwith said. "These other teams in California can drive down the road and watch another team play. We can't. We have to have an adjustment period."
The advantage, Beckwith said, "is by playing back to back, we can make adjustments quicker than other schools."
Wilton said all MPSF matches are difficult.
"I think we play in as tough an athletic conference as there is in the United States in any sport," Wilton said of the 12-team MPSF. "People can argue if they want to, but it's no contest. You have only so many teams, so everybody is good, pretty much, and so everybody you play is good. It's difficult to go up and get a split with anybody."
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