UH, 49ers in key matchup
By Stephen Tsai
After completing yesterday's volleyball practice, Hawai'i libero Ric Cervantes said: "I'm just going to hang around until they kick me out."
It was a statement that could serve as a metaphor for the Warriors' season.
In a three-way tie for fifth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, with 4 1/2 matches separating the leaders and 10th-place team, the Warriors are on the tightrope of a balanced playoff race. Only eight teams qualify for the MPSF post-season tournament.
The MPSF is "the toughest league in any sport, by far," said Cervantes, whose team plays Long Beach State tonight and tomorrow night in the Sheriff Center. "Every great team is in our league. Every night counts, especially when you're in the thick of things."
Long Beach State (7-5) is in fourth place, based on percentage points, but also in a virtual tie with the Warriors (8-6). A UH goal is to be one of four teams serving as opening-round hosts.
"This is a huge match for us," left-side hitter Joshua Walker said. "All of the middle teams are playing each other this week. The league is going to be separated after this week."
UH setter Nejc Zemljak said: "At this point, I'm not worried about the playoffs. We've got Long Beach this week. We've got to play our game. We can win if we play our game."
The Warriors had played four matches in five days during a recent road trip. They were able to rest most of last week. They spent this week weight training, practicing and reviewing videos of the 49ers.
"I think the break helped," head coach Charlie Wade said. "Having the weekend off, and coming together for a nice full week of practice, and going into a routine, all of that was good for us. I think we're in a good spot."
Cervantes said the Warriors have "matured during the season."
"And Charlie is doing a great job of giving us rest when we need rest," Cervantes added.
The Warriors are expected to go with the same lineup. In addition to Zemljak and Cervantes, the other starters are middles Steven Grgas and Matt "Dragon" Rawson, opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft, and left-side hitters Walker and Steven Hunt.
In last week's matches, Wade tweaked the lineup, flip-flopping Walker and Hunt in the rotation.
In UH's schemes there are two left-side hitters. The H1 passes two turns apiece on the left, middle and right. The H2 passes four times on the left and once each in the middle and on the right.
Walker, who usually plays the H1, went back and forth during a match against Southern California, sometimes changing each game.
"Basically, we went with the rotation that made it easier for us to sideout," Walker said. "It worked for us."
The switches also enable Hunt to get more hitting opportunities.
"We're working on things we can control, like how we play and winning matches," Cervantes said. "Those are our concerns."