Warriors freshman starts on fast track
BY Stephen Tsai
During fall training, the Hawai'i men's volleyball team emphasized quickness.
In that theme, the Warriors fast-forwarded past the drama to select freshman Jonas Umlauft as the starting opposite attacker.
"It's kind of like, why delay the inevit-able?" said head coach Charlie Wade, whose Warriors open the season Thursday against Ohio State in the first round of the Outrigger Hotels Invitational in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Umlauft, 19, who was raised in Germany, is projected to be the most prolific Warrior attacker since outside hitter Costas Theo-charidis (2000-03).
At 6 feet 9, Umlauft will be UH's first true opposite since Pedro Azenha in 2005. The opposite is across the setter in the rotation, and hits almost exclusively from the right side.
"He's a great player," setter Nejc Zemljak said. "He always has a vision of what he wants to do with the ball. If it were possible, I'd set him every ball."
Wade said Umlauft has the ability to hit over blocks from the front row or blast away on D sets from the deep right. Umlauft hits, in volleyball vernacular, a "heavy ball" that is difficult to defend. Wade said Umlauft also provides an extra option on trouble plays.
"He has to have incredible vision because he hits a variety of shots," Wade said. "Not only does he see it, he has the ability to execute."
Umlauft already has energized a team that finished 10th in the 12-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation last season.
Asked about the weight of leading this year's team, Umlauft said: "I don't feel any pressure. I don't know much about these expectations. I just try to do the best I can for the team."
Umlauft said he began playing the sport in 2002, when he enrolled in a boarding school that fielded a top volleyball program.
Umlauft's spikes are expected to break 60 mph, when the Warriors' shots will be electronically timed this week. But Umlauft said: "I don't score by hitting hard. I find a seam in the block. That's how I score."
His quickness and vertical jump — he can touch 11 feet 7 — enable Umlauft to attack sets of varying heights. His agility can be traced to his years of playing tennis and badminton.
"His ability to move his feet and bend his knees and be an athlete is really impressive," Wade said.
Umlauft said Hawai'i's reputation as a volleyball community reached Europe.
"It's a great atmosphere," Umlauft said. "That's why I chose Hawai'i."
Umlauft met all of the academic and eligibility requirements to compete as a freshman. The NCAA's international clearinghouse certified Umlauft's eligibility.
Umlauft replaces Joseph Strotman, who ended the 2009 season as the Warriors' No. 1 opposite attacker.
"Joe Strotman is a good player," Wade said. "He's a good player in the league. It's nice to have someone better than him."
Strotman said: "It's all about succeeding as a team. As for myself, regardless if I'm on the court or off the court, it's all about working hard and getting the wins."
Strotman is now viewed as a utility player, earning reps at opposite and left-side hitter. Wade said Umlauft is prepared to step into the lead role.
"I don't think he shirks away from any expectation," Wade said of Umlauft, who played on Germany's elite Junior National team. "He's used to getting set a lot, and used to being a featured player in the offense."
Umlauft's tireless play, Wade marveled, has drawn comparisons to former UH All-America hitter Yuval Katz.
"He's one of those guys you keep setting and setting, and he doesn't get tired," Wade said. "You look at him and you think he's going to wear down. Nope. He keeps going."