Warriors hope to feast on Waves
By Stephen Tsai
One of the best things about the Hawai'i volleyball team is its serving.
That was apparent yesterday when several Warriors served doughnuts to fans who stood in line to buy tickets for Saturday's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoff match in the Stan Sheriff Center.
"It's great to give back," outside hitter Joshua Walker said of head coach Charlie Wade's idea of feeding the supporters.
One fan bought 22 tickets. Another bought 17.
"The fans do so much for us," Walker said. "They support us in every way. It's great to be able to give something back. And it's great to give them a playoff (match)."
The Warriors, who face Pepperdine, did not qualify for the MPSF tournament the previous two years.
What's more, they have not hosted an opening-round match since 2006, when they lost to UCLA in four sets.
"It's been a long time," libero Ric Cervantes said. "It feels great to play a postseason match at home. It's very difficult to host in the MPSF playoffs. It's a tough league."
So tough that the MPSF has teams in the top four spots of the national rankings. The Warriors are No. 4 in this week's AVCA Division I-II coaches' poll, which was released yesterday.
So tough that entering last weekend, the Warriors were two victories behind top-ranked Stanford. There was a possibility of a five-way tie for first place in the MPSF.
"That's how crazy the league is," Cervantes said. "To host is a big deal."
Walker, a fourth-year junior, recalled the frustration of the previous two years.
"In all the sports I played, we always were in the postseason," Walker said. "It was weird not to be in the postseason the past two years."
The worst part, Walker said, "was having April practices that didn't mean anything. It was terrible. I never wanted that to happen again. That's why we worked so hard in the summer to make sure that didn't happen again. It paid off."
To be sure, there were other significant changes. Nejc Zemljak assumed the role as full-time starting setter. Zemljak also is one of the Warriors' most effective servers.
As his last personnel move before retiring as UH head coach last year, Mike Wilton signed opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft of Germany. Under the guidance of Wade and assistant coach Dan Fisher, Umlauft has been the nation's best freshman volleyball player this year.
Umlauft, who is a scoring threat from the front and back right, also is a functional passer and blocker.
He should be named to the All-America first team next month.
Yesterday, Umlauft was selected as co-MPSF Player of the Week.
Of the impact of Wade, Walker said: "He kept us motivated, even when we lost. He's always been very positive. I thought he would be the kind of coach who, if we lost, would blow up and get really mad. He hasn't been that way. He knows what we have to do to win. He taught us to execute the little things a little better. The fact that he was so positive, he kept us in the games until we could figure out how to beat teams. 'Chuck' has been really great for us."
The Warriors and Waves split their two-match series in Malibu, Calif., last month.
"We're really focused on Pepperdine," Cervantes said. "We're ready to go."
The Warriors, who arrived back in town Sunday following a split against UC Santa Barbara, had a lively 2 1/2-hour practice yesterday.
"We not only have practices that mean something, we have to keep fighting if we want to play next week," Walker said. "It's hard to be able to focus on classes when you have Pepperdine on the way. But it's real exciting for us."