Hosting requires sweep of UCSB
By Stephen Tsai
Scoreboard watching in the 21st century consists of a laptop computer, mobile-broadband card and patience.
For the Hawai'i volleyball team, the result was this: reality bytes.
The Warriors' hopes for an easier path to hosting an opening-round playoff match were dashed when Pepperdine, after losing the first two sets and trailing late in the third, rallied to defeat Long Beach State last night. The outcome dropped the idle Warriors into fifth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
But in this final weekend of the regular season, the Warriors still can finish in the top four and claim a host's berth in next week's eight-team MPSF tournament. Such a scenario would require the Warriors to win road matches against UC Santa Barbara tonight and tomorrow night.
The Warriors would have needed only a split if Long Beach State held off Pepperdine. In the regular season, in which each team plays 22 MPSF matches, Stanford (15-5), Cal State Northridge (14-6), Brigham Young (14-6) and Pepperdine (14-7) are ahead of the Warriors (13-7).
But the Warriors hold the tie-breaker over Northridge, BYU and Pepperdine.
Northridge and BYU meet twice this weekend, meaning one team will finish with eight losses or both will finish with seven losses.
"Just being in the playoffs is significant," head coach Charlie Wade said, noting his Warriors clinched a berth in the MPSF tournament two weeks ago. "Being able to host would be big."
The Warriors arrived in California Wednesday night, rested most of yesterday, then practiced in UCSB's 6,000-seat Thunderdome.
The matches actually will be played in Rob Gym, which is optimistically listed with a seating capacity of 2,000.
The difference between the Thunderdome and Rob Gym, according to Wade, is "the difference between the (Stan Sheriff Center) arena and (UH's) Gym I. It's quite a difference."
But the Warriors practice in Gym I at least four times a week, and they plan to have a serve-and-pass session in Rob Gym this morning.
Of UH's practice yesterday, Wade said, "it was all right. I never try to put too much into the day before (a match). The practice (yesterday) was designed to get the cobwebs out. After the travel, we wanted to get out there and break a sweat."
UH is one of two MPSF teams that plays back-to-back matches at the same site rather than home-and-home matches. In their past three two-match series on the road, the Warriors lost the opener but won the rematch.
Wade's theory for the see-saw matches?
"I think the teams we're playing (on the road) are really good," Wade said. "But that's college athletics. Everybody plays good at home. And it's hard to win on the road."
But Wade credited his players and assistants coaches for making the adjustments for the rematches.
"Watching other teams play," Wade said of scouting plans, "is not the same as watching yourself against an opponent. Watching yourself is pretty valuable."
The Gauchos offer a two-step problem. Jeff Menzel, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter, is the Gauchos' go-to attacker. In MPSF matches, Menzel has taken 35 percent of the Gauchos' swings (985 of 2,834).
He has 457 more swings than the Gauchos' second-most prolific hitter.
With the block tracking Menzel, the Gauchos have been able to run the quick attack to middles Scott Slaughter (.405 accuracy) and Dylan Davis (.426).
The thing is, Menzel scores a lot of points — but not always for the Gauchos.
In MPSF play, Menzel averages 5.11 kills per set. He also averages 2.67 attack errors per set.
"He will score," Wade said. "It's just, how efficient will he be?"
Wade said Menzel "jumps really high and hits really hard. That's a dangerous combination to have."
For the Warriors, the strategy is to serve tough, taking away the quick attack and enabling a third front-row player to join the block.
"It gets a lot easier," Wade said of effective serves, "when you can get the middles out (of the offense)."
Read his blog at http://warriorbeat.honadvblogs.com.>.