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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 27, 2006

After day off, traveling Warriors take on USC

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer


4:50 p.m. today, KKEA (1420AM)

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As a reward for winning the first two matches of this four-matches-in-five-nights California trip, the University of Hawai'i volleyball team yesterday received the gift of nothing.

No practice. No film sessions. No meetings.

"They had a total free day," said Mike Wilton, whose team plays Southern California in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matches today and tomorrow.

The players spent the day in the mall and at activities hosted by the families of setter Brian Beckwith and outside hitter Jake Schkud.

"They needed a break," said Wilton, noting he likely would have issued day passes even if the Warriors had not swept Cal State Northridge Friday night and Saturday morning. "They have worked hard."

The Northridge matches resolved questions about the health of opposite attacker John Matt Bender and the competition for the job as second designated server.

Until Saturday, Bender had not played in a match since suffering torn ligaments in his left ankle during the second practice of training camp. He resumed practicing three weeks ago, and was placed on the active roster a week after that.

In Saturday's three-game victory, Bender entered with UH trailing midway through the second game. He finished the game with eight kills and an ace. "We needed to have him come in, and he helped us," Wilton said.

For now, Bender has not regained the starting job from Lauri Hakala, who is averaging 3.72 kills per game. Hakala struggled Saturday, amassing six kills (and six errors) in 13 swings. It was the third time this season Hakala failed to reach double figures kills.

Because of Hakala's accuracy problems, the Matadors covered him with one blocker. "They stopped paying attention to him, and started focusing the block elsewhere," Wilton said.

But Wilton said Hakala's performance was an aberration that would not warrant a lineup change. "Lauri's had a wonderful year for us," Wilton said.

Bender said he still needs to find the consistency and timing when he soars for spikes. UH's new quick offense requires perimeter hitters to attack off running starts.

"I'm working on getting my body to the ball, and getting my feet in position to get a good swing," Bender said. "I haven't had a lot of time in practice to be able to jump and actually hit the ball."

Bender praised Beckwith, saying, "he does an awesome job." But Bender added, "I have to get back into the feel of things. Hitting, you don't realize, is technical in getting the ball in relation to your body each and every play. Brian is a very good setter, but even the best setters in the world can't put the ball in the exact same place every single time. That's the art of being a good hitter: Getting yourself in position and seeing the block. That's something I need to get back into the flow with."

The Warriors, in the meantime, might be ready to award a designated-server job to outside hitter Eric Kalima, who was a part-time starter before suffering back and shoulder injuries during last month's Outrigger Invitational. Sean Carney is the other designated server, a pinch-hitter's role used once a game.

Kalima, who served twice on Saturday, has an accuracy of 91 percent. The UH goal is keep 90 percent of the serves in play.

"He does a nice job (with his serves), and you know he's going to play some defense, too," Wilton said.

The thing is, Kalima is listed as the top reserve at the two left-side positions. As a designated server, Kalima would replace the middle blocker, all but eliminating him as a substitute at outside hitter.

"There's some kind of risk in putting him in as a server," Wilton said. "It's a risk you have to take."

But with a set lineup — José José Delgado and Matt Carere have locked up starting jobs on the left side — and Bender's availability, Kalima's best chances to play would be as a server.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.