Warriors shed Tritons, tears in clinching berth in playoffs
• Photo gallery: UH volleyball Saturday
BY Stephen Tsai
Who said Warriors don't cry?
Covered in lei and the aloha of a four-year journey, Hawai'i volleyball player Ric Cervantes yielded to his emotions following last night's 30-28, 30-28, 30-27 victory over UC San Diego.
In the glow of Senior Night, the Warriors celebrated an outcome that assured them a berth in the eight-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs. They did not qualify for the previous two postseasons.
"It's hard to explain what we've been through," said Cervantes, a senior libero. "That's why I'm so emotional. To be in a position where we can really compete for a national title, after all we've been through, it means a lot."
The Warriors, who improved to 13-7 in the MPSF with two regular-season matches remaining, actually had clinched a playoff spot when UC Santa Barbara lost earlier in the night. But the Warriors avoided looking at any other scoreboard but the ones in the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I'm really proud of the effort they put into it, and not just this year," said Charlie Wade, who was named UH head coach in June. "These guys have put a lot into the program over a number of years. It's nice to see them get some validation for their work, and a chance to represent us in the postseason, and hopefully make a nice run."
To be sure, their final regular-season home match was not settled easily. The Warriors faced considerable deficits in each set — 11-5 in the first, 18-14 in the second, 16-12 in the third.
Opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft, who had 28 kills against the Tritons Friday night, made five errors before earning his first kill last night, and was hitting minus-.037 after two sets.
What's more, the Tritons were playing smart. They served tough, passed accurately, hit roll shots over triple blocks, and kept the Warriors' block guessing.
"I think San Diego out-played us most of the night," Wade said.
But the Warriors, particularly Umlauft, refused to be discouraged.
"I had a really bad start, but I had to keep fighting," Umlauft said. "That's what volleyball is about. You have to battle the whole set. It goes up to 30. We did a good job battling."
For the Warriors, it began with the serve-and-pass phase.
Off their 88 serves, the Warriors scored 37 points, led by setter Nejc Zemljak's nine. Zemljak, who mixes short serves with sizzlers off the same jump move, put down four kills.
Ernie Vidinha, who replaced outside hitter Steven Hunt in the middle of the second set, had two kills, and was the server when the Warriors rallied in the final two sets.
"We have no quit," Cervantes said. "That's the nature of our team."
Left-side hitter Joshua Waker slammed 17 kills and hit .448.
In the third set, Umlauft had seven kills, without an error, in 10 swings.
Brennon Dyer, who entered for one rotation turn as a designated blocker, teamed on an important block in the final set.
"Chuck (Wade) trusts the bench to be ready," Dyer said. "We're all at the same level. We can grab a guy and throw him into the game. That's what happened with me. That's what happened with Ernie. He went in as a spark plug. That's Warrior volleyball."
Wade said: "From 25(-point marker) in, our guys stepped up and made plays."
Indeed, the Warriors were 17-8 after the Tritons hit their 25th point.
"We were steady down the stretch," Wade said. "We sided-out good. We made plays when it counted. Usually, that's a pretty good formula."
Walker said: "The way we beat San Diego is the way we've beaten teams all season. We weren't going to waste this crowd. We want to make sure we can keep winning so we can host a playoff (match)."