Hawaii spikes 49ers in four
• Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. Long Beach volleyball
By Stephen Tsai
The Hawai'i volleyball team used the service line to serve notice of its drive for a playoff berth.
Led by setter Nejc Zemljak's disruptive serves, the Warriors produced a 30-21, 28-30, 30-23, 30-25 victory over Long Beach State last night in the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Warriors vaulted past the 49ers into a tie for fourth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The rematch is tonight at 7.
UH and Brigham Young have 9-6 MPSF records, but the Warriors control the tie-breaker. The top eight teams qualify for the MPSF postseason tournament, with the top four hosting opening-round matches.
The 49ers have a lineup that has been toxic for the Warriors this season: efficient middle hitters and a quick-to-the-pins offense that features the opposite attacker.
But the Warriors negated that with their tough serves. The standard goal is for a team to score 35 percent of the time it serves. Last night, the Warriors scored on 45.3 percent of their serves (53 of 117).
Zemljak, a senior, was the most dominant. The Warriors scored 18 points on Zemljak's 30 serves, a conversion rate of 60 percent.
Zemljak had seven aces, including five in the fourth set. In one stretch, he had three aces in four serves, boosting the Warriors' cushion to 25-15.
"He definitely impacts the match from the service line," UH coach Charlie Wade said.
Through several experiments, Wade devised a rotation turn in which three of the team's best jumpers — left-side hitter Joshua Walker, middle blocker Matt "Dragon" Rawson and opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft — are in the front row when Zemljak serves. The rotation also has the two primary passers — libero Ric Cervantes and left-side hitter Steven Hunt — in the back row.
While Zemljak uses the same four-step approach, he alters his serves, mixing powerful jumpers, knuckleball-like floats, spinners and drop shots. Zemljak said he often picks the poison while airborne.
After crunching the numbers, Wade decided to start every UH rotation with Zemljak behind the service line.
"We know it's a good rotation," Umlauft said. "That row can score a lot of points. His serving is unbelievable."
Walker said the players notice the enthusiasm building when Zemljak's service turn approaches.
When Zemljak is preparing, always with two deep breaths, Walker said, "we know we have a great opportunity to get a block. Anytime you have somebody going off like that, which he's capable of, it really helps. We make sure we're dialed in because, with Nejc back there, we can get a block or an ace at any point. That's what he can do for us."
The Warriors also benefitted from extensive video sessions.
The 49er outside hitters are at their best when they hit line shots. The Warriors aligned their defense to move a double block to guard the line shots.
Because such a tactic leaves opposite attacker Dean Bittner to face a solo block, the Warriors placed Cervantes at an angle to dig crossing shots.
The scheme worked. Cervantes came up with 10 crucial digs. Bittner had 18 kills, but he made nine attack errors and hit .205.
"We've got guys who are a little more cerebral," Wade said. "They watch the (videos), and they pick up tendencies, and they're able to implement (the information) when the game starts."
Umlauft said: "We tried to put up a solid block. And when they crossed it, we tried to get ready for digging. We did a good job technically."
Umlauft finished with 18 kills, and Walker added 15.