Hawai'i hanging loose before UCLA matches
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
During yesterday's University of Hawai'i volleyball practice, the thrills were alive with the sound of . . . Alfee! Alfee!
"Did I surprise you?" Alfee Reft, a 5-foot-10 libero, asked a reporter after blocking 6-8 Kyle Klinger's tip shot.
It didn't matter that Klinger was hobbled by a sore elbow and turf toe or that he was hitting a trap set from a position he never plays. It was a 6-on-4 game of Waves, and the only intent was a good time.
The practice also marked the debut of middle blocker Jake Schkud's Grandpa Munster 'do, a reverse mohawk in which the middle of his shaggy haircut is buzzed short. "Just testing it out," Schkud said. "We're just having fun out here."
So much fun, it appears, to ease the pressure of another must-win series, this time against arch rival UCLA. The matches are tonight and tomorrow at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Warriors are on a roll, having won seven in a row and eight of nine since settling on a lineup of outside hitters José José Delgado and Matt Carere, opposite attacker Lauri Hakala, middle blockers Dio Dante and Mauli'a LaBarre, setter Brian Beckwith, and Reft.
"We're starting to feel the game," LaBarre said. "We're playing cohesively. We know if we play hard and play good volleyball, we can beat anybody out there."
But there is historical evidence that UCLA is no ordinary opponent for UH. The Bruins lead the series, 45-16, with a 23-11 advantage in Honolulu, including this year's five-game victory in the Outrigger Invitational.
The Bruins' volleyball program — 18 NCAA championships under coach Al Scates — is one of the most successful, even by the school's high standards. The UCLA brand name is so popular it reaches the Arctic Circle.
"I knew UCLA was a big university, and it has a lot of sports programs," said Hakala, who was raised in Finland. "If people in Europe know universities in the United States, they're more likely to know Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and UCLA."
Scates said his team receives numerous all-expenses-paid invitations from tournaments in Asia and Europe.
"In volleyball," Beckwith said, "they've been known as an NCAA dynasty. They always have a good team. They have a legacy of winning. We could get a national championship team showing up against us."
It begins with Scates, who is the patent holder of the quick offense run by nearly every Mountain Pacific Sports Federation team, including UH.
"His teams are always prepared," UH coach Mike Wilton said.
This time, the Bruins are in better health. Steve Klosterman, who has fully recovered from last year's arm surgery, has regained the job at opposite attacker. He played on the left side during the preseason. Klosterman's return allows power-hitting Damien Scott, a former Bruin football player, to serve as the top reserve at three perimeter spots.
Middle blocker Jamie Diefenbach, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January, is being used in one or two games each match.
Setter Dennis Gonzalez also is healthy after suffering a sprained finger on his left hand while trying to block outside hitter Paul George's spike during practice.
The Bruins, who played matches Tuesday and Wednesday, arrived yesterday. "They're used to traveling," he said of his players. "I took them to Italy (last summer). For us, this is a short trip, actually."
After pondering a lineup change, Wilton is expected to start 6-foot-9 LaBarre at middle blocker.
In the cauldron system — an evaluation process that measures performances in practices and matches — Schkud moved ahead of LaBarre this week. But Wilton said he weighed Schkud's superior points to LaBarre's 8-1 record as a starter.
"Winning is always the strongest consideration," Wilton said, adding, "Mau has been doing a pretty good job of blocking out there. That's why he's out there. We want our middle to block volleyballs."
Wilton said Eric Kalima, who had started as an outside hitter before suffering back and shoulder injuries, is joining Sean Carney as a designated server.
"It is a little hard to come in (without warming up), but whatever," Kalima said. "I just go out and do it."
Reach Stephen Tsai at email@example.com.