Warriors say it's MPSF title or bus
BY Stephen Tsai
The Hawai'i men's volleyball team got off to a flat start yesterday in its quest for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament title.
One of the back-right tires was deflated on the shuttle that was supposed to take the Warriors to Honolulu International Airport.
A replacement bus was summoned, and the Warriors soon were on their way to a road trip they hope will extend to 11 days.
"I packed for a long trip," middle blocker Steven Grgas said.
The Warriors face top-seeded Stanford tomorrow in the semifinals of the MPSF tournament in Palo Alto, Calif. Saturday's title match and next week's NCAA final four all will be played on Stanford's campus.
The Warriors, seeded fourth, likely have only one chance to reach the NCAA final four: win the MPSF tournament.
The tournament winner earns the league's accompanying automatic berth in the final four. With Stanford all but guaranteed an NCAA berth as either an at-large invitee or the MPSF's automatic representative, the Warriors would need to win tomorrow and Saturday to be able to compete for a national championship.
The euphoria of the past Saturday's pulsating quarterfinal victory over Pepperdine has faded into focused determination.
"We have the eye on the prize," UH head coach Charlie Wade said.
The Warriors played well against the Cardinal in November exhibitions in Hawai'i. But the Cardinal swept a two-match series in California in January.
"It was our first road trip, and we just got punished for it," setter Nejc Zemljak said. "I don't think there's any doubt in any of us we're a better team than we were in January. We definitely feel comfortable in our skills."
After that series, the Warriors began to find order on the court.
Left-side hitter Steven Hunt, who was recruited as a power hitter, made the transition to primary passer and secondary hitter.
"Everyone has a role on the team, and I've come to accept my role," Hunt said.
Grgas, who missed time because of a fractured finger on his right (hitting) hand, rejoined the lineup.
And freshman opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft corrected a needless stutter step, the only flaw in an otherwise effective overall game. Umlauft, who is an offensive threat from the front right and back right, led the MPSF in scoring.
"He really struggled on that (Stanford) trip," Wade said. "He was pretty medium. He didn't hit for a good percentage. He's definitely playing at a high level now. He's stronger, too. His body is in better shape. I think he's risen to the level of play."
Walker said: "It's not going to be an easy road trip. We can only control what we can control. Like the (flat tire). If one bus doesn't make it, we'll find another way. That's the way we feel. We're going to find a way to get there."