Hawaii, UCLA renew rivalry
By Stephen Tsai
Something was lost in the translation.
Asked about the most successful program in NCAA men's volleyball history — UCLA — Hawai'i opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft said that prior to moving here from Germany, "I never heard of them."
Of tonight's meeting, Umlauft said, "For me, it's another match."
But after reviewing video and hours of practice, Umlauft is now aware of the Bruins' talent.
"It's a big rivalry," UH setter Nejc Zemljak said. "I hope the crowd is going to be into it."
This is NCAA men's volleyball's yakudoshi year, and the Bruins have won 19 national titles.
"UCLA is almost synonymous with volleyball," UH coach Charlie Wade said. "They've won so much, both (in) men and women. They're one of the premier teams. It's good for volleyball when UCLA is good."
And this season, the Bruins are competitive, despite records of 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. They are ranked fourth nationally.
"If we're playing well on our side of the net, then we'll win," UCLA coach Al Scates said. "If we're not, we won't win. I've been more concerned about our team."
Outside hitter Garrett Muagututia leads the Bruins with 4.08 kills per set. Muagututia and libero Tom Hastings are the Bruins' best passers.
Setter Kevin Ker has seized control of the offense. In the preseason, Ker and Kyle Caldwell dueled for the starting setter's job. But Caldwell suffered a hand injury, and Ker "started to get into a groove," Scates said.
Except for some in-match suggestions, Scates gives Ker autonomy.
"I let him call his own game," Scates said. "I talk to him during timeouts. With some setters, I signal who to set during the games. I don't do that much with Kevin."
Wade, in his first season as UH's head coach, also puts his trust in his setter. Wade said he, too, does not call many plays.
"We hopefully have done a good job in preparing them so they kind of understand the scouting report, (and) what you see in terms of serving targets," Wade said. "We talk about it going into (the match). We made adjustments in match. We hopefully prepared them to know what to do in different situations. I can tell someone to "hit line, hit line, hit line.' But if the set's not in the right spot, or (the hitter is) not in a good position, they have to go with what they're most comfortable doing at that moment in time."
Wade also has had to make adjustments after middle blocker Steven Grgas suffered a fracture in his right (hitting) hand. Grgas said he will miss about six weeks.
Brennon Dyer, who is a little taller than 6 feet 4, started the past three matches in the middle. Brennan has one of the best vertical jumps on the team — he can touch 11 feet 8 — and a powerful right swing. Dyer is one of the few middles who relies on a jump serve.
"If you look at him, he looks undersized," Wade said. "But he has really long arms, and he jumps well. He plays bigger than his height.
"He's such a difficult matchup because he's so fast off the ground," Wade added. "The reality is he is going to play a lot there next year, too. It's nice getting him into the lineup."