UH figures out USC
Turning problem-solving skills into an art and craft, the University of Hawai'i figured out a way to emerge with a 30-18, 30-26, 27-30, 30-24 volleyball victory over Southern California last night in the Lyon Center in Los Angeles.
In winning their sixth in a row, the Warriors improved to 10-4 overall and 8-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
The Trojans, who fell to 8-10 and 5-8, have lost 10 in a row in this series.
Today's rematch in USC's North Gym starts at 5 p.m. Hawai'i time.
"We were very lucky tonight," UH coach Mike Wilton said after the 125-minute match. "We found a way to win."
For every dilemma — erratic serving, fatigue and USC outside hitter Juan Figueroa's powerful right arm — the Warriors managed to devise a successful counter-strategy.
"We had ups and downs, but we stuck together," said outside hitter José José Delgado, who led the Warriors with 20 kills. "We got the job done."
Behind floor captain Matt Carere's eight kills, the Warriors dominated Game 1. "We were so in system," Wilton said. "They couldn't stop us at all. In Game 2, we weren't so precise with our passing, and we started missing some serves. In Game 3, we really started missing some serves. ... We missed some serves in ways I haven't seen out of our guys."
In Game 2, the Warriors trailed 17-13 and 20-15 before Sean Carney, serving in place of middle blocker Dio Dante, sparked a 7-1 surge.
But there was no escape plan in Game 3, during which the Warriors gave away more points (five) than they scored (four) on serves. In the first two games, the Warriors scored 25 points on plays initiated by their serves.
By the end of Game 3, it was apparent that the Warriors — in their third match in four days — were becoming road weary. Jake Schkud, an outside hitter raised in Southern California, replaced Dante at middle blocker at the start of the fourth game.
"I thought Dio was tired mentally," Wilton said. "He was making a lot of mistakes he doesn't usually make. It seemed to occur to me, 'Maybe we've been out on the road too long.' I suspect that's part of it. Jake came in and gave us a nice lift, I thought."
Schkud had two kills and one of the Warriors' 18.5 blocks. He also energized the defense. The Warriors, who trailed late in Game 4, scored seven of the final eight points, including six when setter Brian Beckwith served.
"Our players were able to persevere under tough conditions," Wilton said. "We certainly don't like to be in those conditions so much, but probably SC caused a lot of that."
Indeed, Figueroa contributed to the Warriors' woes with his powerful crossing shots. He finished with 20 kills.
But he was no match for the triple threat of Delgado, Carere and Lauri Hakala.
Carere finished with 18 kills and hit .452. Hakala, who was pulled in Game 2 of Saturday's three-game sweep of Cal State Northridge, rebounded to produce 14 kills and five blocks.
And Delgado continued his power surge. He has been the Warriors' kill leader in eight consecutive matches, during which he is averaging 4.4 kills per game.
"It's because of the team," Delgado said of his recent success. "Everybody knows what his role is. As long as we realize that, and that we have team unity, we're going to keep getting better.
"The main thing is we're finding ways to win," Delgado added. "That's one of the good characteristics about this team. That shows our team unity. That shows we believe in ourselves. We've been working really hard."