Zemljak makes serving look routine
BY Stephen Tsai
Hawai'i volleyball setter Nejc Zemljak is stuck in a routine — much to the delight of his teammates and coaches.
Relying on the same technique, Zemljak has become the Warriors' most effective server.
In recent matches, the Warriors score points better than 40 percent of the time when Zemljak initiates plays with his serves. To put it into perspective, a success ratio of 35 percent is considered to be outstanding.
"He's not trying to get straight aces all of the time," UH coach Charlie Wade said. "He's trying to create point-scoring chances for us. He does a very good job of that."
In Friday night's victory over Brigham Young, Zemljak served nine points in a row during a 10-0 run in the first set.
The Warriors are hopeful of a similar performance during tonight's rematch against BYU in the Stan Sheriff Center.
The rematch originally was scheduled to be played on Maui this past Saturday, but was postponed because of the tsunami warning. Because BYU, which is administered by the Mormon church, does not participate in sporting events on Sundays, the match was moved to today, beginning at 6 p.m.
"I would have loved to have played on Maui," UH libero Ric Cervantes said. "It got sold out right away. It would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it's my senior year. But it will be nice to play in (the Stan Sheriff Center). Obviously, we're used to it. We have a distinct home-court advantage."
One thing that has become familiar is the Warriors' opening rotation. Through trial, mistrial and error, the Warriors prefer to open with the front row of left-side hitter Joshua Walker, middle blocker Matt "Dragon" Rawson and opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft. Their two best passers, Cervantes and left-side hitter Steven Hunt, then open in the back row.
"What a concept — diggers digging and blockers blocking," Wade said. "What's not to like? And we have our best server at the service line."
And as the leadoff server, Zemljak earns more attempts each set.
For Zemljak, every serve begins with a deep breath. Or two.
"I'm trying to calm down, get my pulse a little slower, so I can focus on the serve," Zemljak said.
Off a four-step approach, he will toss the ball with enough arc and spin that it will descend just past the service line.
Zemljak has three jump serves — a sizzler, a short one and a floater. His toss/approach is the same for each serve. "Even when I do the short serve," Zemljak said. "I want to keep it all the same way until I hit it. If everybody knew what serve I was going to do, the (surprise) effect would be gone."
Zemljak said he often does not decide what serve he will use until he is airborne. When he wants a short serve, he will not follow through after striking the ball.
"First and foremost, when he goes back to serve, and you look at him, he's focused on serving," Wade said. "That sounds pretty simple, but it's pretty significant. He's very present-focused. And he's developed a very consistent routine. Everything prepares him to serve, from the physical mannerism to the actual time to the relative time for the whole motor skill. He's really in control from the service line."