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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

No. 4 Irvine serves up sweep of No. 7 Hawai'i

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By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

UC Irvine's Aaron Harrell goes high over the block of Hawai'i's Dio Dante for an easy kill last night.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Dazed and confused, the members of the Hawai'i volleyball team had difficulty comprehending last night's 30-26, 30-23, 30-26 loss to No. 4 UC Irvine.

"To be honest with you, I can barely believe what I saw with my eyes," UH coach Mike Wilton said.

It was a surreal night in the Stan Sheriff Center. Six spectators wearing "UC Irvine Volleyball" shirts sat in the middle of the Manoa Maniacs' rooting section. The UH mascot known as the Warrior led the cheers of "Let's go 'Bows!" And the seventh-ranked Warriors' usually dependable passing imploded.

What happened after the Warriors surged to a 5-2 lead to force an Anteater timeout in Game 1? "It's a good question," said outside hitter Matt Carere, UH's floor captain. "We couldn't pass. We couldn't get into rhythm. They served us off the court pretty much."

The Anteaters had a 5-1 advantage in aces but, more significantly, they were able to induce inaccurate passes, breaking the flow of the Warriors' quick offense. The Anteaters scored 31 points on plays initiated by their serves; the Warriors had 18 points when they served.

"They took it to us," Wilton said. "I think we helped them out quite a lot. It's almost stunning to me about the passing. When you don't pass, you can't sideout. If you don't sideout, it makes it extremely hard to play defense. There's a psychological factor. Siding out is supposed to be easy. Playing defense is hard."

The Warriors never could solve the riddle of Irvine setter Brian Thornton's jump-float serve, which led to 11 points.

"A lot of guys in the league use the jump float," Thornton said. "I don't know how I scored with it."

Irvine coach John Speraw added: "Sometimes you look at it and you don't know it's getting done. He has a tendency to score a lot of points for us. He keeps the ball in play. The truth is, most guys have grown up these days passing jump serves. The old-school floater has kind of lost its magic. But we had it tonight, and that was good for us."

Meanwhile, Brian Beckwith scrambled to salvage errant passes into workable sets. After the match ended, Beckwith went to the UH bench, where he was treated for a sore right shin. "I'm fine," he said. "I'll be good for (the rematch) Friday."

Wilton said: "He's had it for a while. It seemed to me I saw him limping a little bit tonight. But that wasn't the issue. We gave him nothing to run the offense with. It's a tough deal."

Wilton tried several tactics to slow the hemorrhaging. Eric Kalima replaced outside hitter Josť Josť Delgado in Game 1. Jake Schkud opened at opposite hitter in Game 2, and Lauri Hakala moved to left-side hitter. Mauli'a LaBarre also replaced Dio Dante in the middle.

Nothing worked. "We passed horribly," Hakala said, "but we played horribly in everything else, too. We're supposed to play better. Whoever knows the answers is a smart man. I don't."

Carere said: "Brian was doing a great job running around for us. But we couldn't get in system, and they put up a great block, and we were in trouble."

Five of the Anteaters' eight blocks were in Game 3.

The Warriors could not solve their dilemma through their own serving. The Anteaters absorbed the Warriors' best shots, parlaying them into easy passes to Thornton.

"As a setter, nice passes are the best thing that can ever happen," Thornton said. "They're absolutely the best thing. My passers did a great job. It makes it so much easier when they're passing the way they did. They did an unbelievable job."

Thornton made use of his menu of options. Middle attackers David Smith and Aaron Harrell combined for 16 kills on quick sets. Left-side hitter Jayson Jablonsky, breaking out of a season-long slump, pounded 16 kills. Opposite hitter Matt Webber, using a full-body motion to launch his left-armed shots, produced 15 kills.

"Volleyball can be a pretty simple game," Irvine's Speraw said. "I think serving and passing is a huge part of it. Tonight, we served well and got them out of system more than they're obviously used to. They're a good passing team. I think they were a little off tonight."

While the Anteaters struggled briefly with their passing, they were able to adjust their aim.

"I think they looked through the net and gained a lot of confidence," Wilton said.

Webber said the Anteaters had struggled with their passing in the past week. "But tonight we brought out our A game," he said. "We executed. We took care of the balls coming on our side of the net. We gave Thorny a real easy job to hook up the hitters."

Irvine improved to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. UH is 3-3 and 1-2.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.