Warriors topple No. 1 USC in four
• Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. USC volleyball
BY Stephen Tsai
The Stan Sheriff Center rocked, and the Hawai'i volleyball team rolled to a pulsating 30-21, 24-30, 30-28, 30-23 upset of top-ranked Southern California last night.
"The Warriors are back," declared middle blocker Matt "Dragon" Rawson, who slammed aloha ball to deliver UH its first Outrigger Hotels Invitational title since 2006. "Everything is back, back to the old days."
UH, USC and Penn State each were 2-1 in the three-night round robin. The tie-breaker was the set records. The 12th-ranked Warriors were 8-4, USC 7-4 and No. 5 Penn State 6-6.
That gave the Warriors' their sixth Outrigger championship in the event's 16-year history.
The Warriors relied on left-side hitter Joshua Walker's 24 kills, accurate passing, an effective middle attack and, most significant, an energetic crowd that was louder than its sum (3,022 turnstile).
"Their fans really helped them," Trojan coach Bill Ferguson said.
Even the Warriors' heralded newcomer, freshman opposite hitter Jonas Umlauft, admittedly sneaked a peek at Alan "Rubberband Man" Hackbarth's gyrating dance moves in the stands.
"We had to focus on the game, but, yes ..." Umlauft said, smiling.
For the Warriors, the mood turned after they fell behind 24-13 in the second set. Although their frenetic rally fell short, the Warriors proved they could absorb USC's best shots.
In the final two sets, the Warriors, led by libero Ric Cervantes, were able to rev their quick offense with accurate passes to within the 3-meter line. With a full menu of options, Nejc Zemljak was able to set quickly to the middle or high to the pins or back row.
"Our passers were playing out of their minds," said Rawson, who slammed nine kills and hit .467. "If we keep passing like this, I don't think anybody can stop us."
Cervantes, who coordinates the back-row defense, even provided a pre-match tutorial session to Walker, who struggled with his passing in Friday night's five-set loss to Penn State.
Cervantes instructed Walker to extend his arms — creating a platform to pass — before the server strikes the volleyball.
"I locked my platform a lot earlier, and it really helped," said Walker, who had six digs and made only one passing error in 23 service receptions.
Charlie Wade, in his first season as UH head coach, implored his players to focus on fundamentals during an animated pep talk after Friday's loss and during a serve-and-pass session yesterday afternoon.
"We made a commitment to be more cerebral about receiving serves," Wade said. "I wanted them to remember the things we did that allowed us to pass so well Thursday (in a sweep of Ohio State). We wanted to make sure we gave ourselves the best chance to do that (against USC). That certainly was the focus for us."
In the final two sets, the Trojans scored on 12 of 52 serves. The Warriors were successful on 20 of 59.
"We didn't serve very well," Ferguson said. "We created a ton of opportunities at the net — not stuff blocks, but controlling the ball and getting some digs. But we never converted on hardly anything. That was our downfall. That coupled with not being able to put enough pressure on them from the service line. But credit Hawai'i. They played a great match."
Walker, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player, was able to blast away through double blocks. Umlauft, who finished with 14 kills, made 10 attack errors. But his threat as an attacker from the back right kept USC from planting blocks on the other attackers.
The middles, used mostly as decoys last year, are now incorporated in the offense. On the final play, Rawson demanded aloha ball.
"I knew I could put it down,' Rawson said. "I wanted the last kill. I told Nejc I wanted the ball."
After the slam, Rawson raced around UH's side of the court.
Will the outcome restore the program to the glory days after three consecutive losing seasons?
"We'll let the fans decide," Wade said. "If they don't come back, the answer is 'no.' I thought we put out a pretty good product for the fans tonight. I thought everybody had a good time. I think they got their money's worth. Bodies were flying around. The team is winning. We're going to work on getting better and holding up our end of the bargain. Hopefully, the word gets out and the people will come out."
In the earlier match, Penn State beat No. 10 Ohio State, 30-16, 30-27, 24-30, 30-25.