UH makes volleyball debut after makeover
BY Stephen Tsai
The Hawai'i volleyball team has incorporated a new attitude for this season, which opens tonight against Ohio State.
And as part of the leadership training, each player was asked to be a chairman yesterday.
"Yes, I built my first chair," outside hitter Gus Tuaniga said, proudly holding up his reddened hands. "My hands are aching, but it was fun."
Under first-year coach Charlie Wade, the Warriors are receiving a makeover on and off the court.
Their locker room in the Stan Sheriff Center is being renovated. Plaques will be displayed on the freshly painted walls. A high-def, flat-screen television will be installed. TeraFlex will replace the carpet. And in front of each locker, there is a new ergonomic chair, which the players assembled themselves.
"Teamwork," outside hitter Joshua Walker said of makeshift assembly line.
Wade said: "We're trying to spruce it up a little bit. We ask a lot of them. We ask them to be exceptional. We want to do nice things for them. If we can do something cosmetic to improve the locker room, we'll do it. You always felt good when you put on your Sunday best. We'll do anything we can do to demonstrate that we appreciate their hard work."
The Warriors are hopeful the makeover extends to their play. After amassing a 23-5 record and finishing second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in 2006, the Warriors have had three consecutive losing seasons.
"We underachieved," senior libero Ric Cervantes said of the 13-14 season in 2007. "The next year was bad, and last year was even worse."
At the end of last season, Mike Wilton retired as UH head coach. Wilton now is an assistant coach for the Northern Arizona women's team. Wade, a former assistant coach for the Rainbow Wahine, was hired as Wilton's successor.
In September, as fall training was about to open, Cervantes called a players-only meeting.
"We all understood we played bad last year, and we needed to take ownership of our bad play," Cervantes said. "We were sick and tired of playing bad and losing. We made a conscious effort to work hard and change for the better."
It began in the classroom. Four players raised their grade-point averages a full point. The team's GPA was 3.2 during the fall semester. Tuaniga, who was benched twice last season, said he was on academic probation at the end of the 2009 spring semester. He earned a 2.8 GPA during the fall semester.
"Hard work pays off," Tuaniga said.
Emphasizing academics, Cervantes said, "made us more accountable. We didn't miss classes. That should have been an automatic thing, but for some of us, it wasn't. (The improved team GPA) makes us feel confident we can do anything."
The Warriors spent fall training working on their quickness and footwork — skills, they believe, that will improve their passing. Positioning themselves to make better passes should provide more options for setter Nejc Zemljak. Because erratic defense hindered their offensive flow, the Warriors hit a mere .241 last season, worst among MPSF teams.
"Each day, we've been focusing on getting better and blocking out the demons from last year," Walker said.
The Warriors believe better passing from their left-side hitters, as well as the addition of opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft, will increase their production. Umlauft, at 6 feet 9, is an attacking threat from every rotation. He is as effective hitting over the block from the right pin as blasting D sets from the back right.
Wade indicated that Zemljak is being encouraged to feed quick sets to middle hitters Matt "Dragon" Rawson and Steven Grgas. Rawson underwent successful surgery on his right shoulder during the offseason. Despite an emergency appendectomy , Grgas is now at full strength.
"They're two fifth-year guys, and they both have healthy (right) arms right now," Wade said. "We're going to set them plenty."
Walker has appeared to lock down one of the left-side spots. The other will go to Tuaniga, Steven Hunt, Joe Strotman or Ernie Vidinha. Tuaniga has a slight lead. "We're going to play a lot of players," Wade said.
Cervantes, the fourth-year libero, is regarded as the team captain.
"No doubt," Walker said.
Wade said: "It's been a natural evolution. From early on, he's stepped up. We talked about ultimately for us to be our best, we're going to have to get good leadership from a lot of people. That's a natural position for Ric to be in. He kind of assumed that role early on."
Penn State and No. 1-ranked Southern California meet at 4 p.m. today in the opening round of the Outrigger Hotels Invitational in the Stan Sheriff Center. The UH-Ohio State match starts at 7 p.m.