Friday, April 21, 2000
Rainbows hoping forBy Dave Reardon
extended volleyball stay
LOS ANGELES -- The first annual Stefan & Costas Ultimate Body Surfing Contest was postponed yesterday. By the time the University of Hawaii men's volleyball contingent arrived, Southern California was getting dark and chilly.
Setter Stefan Krejci and outside hitter Costas Theocharidis will have to make their Muscle Beach debut another day.
Krejci is optimistic there will be many more opportunities on this trip for he and his Rainbow teammates to experience the Pacific Ocean from its eastern extreme.
The first thing the sophomore from Austria did on arrival was unpack enough finance textbooks to make Alan Greenspan blush. Then he plastered snapshots of friends and family on his hotel room wall.
"This is my home for now. I plan on being here for awhile," Krejci said.
USC wants to send Hawaii packing quickly, like an hour or two after the start of tomorrow's (4 p.m. HST) first-round Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoff match at North Gym.
WHO: No. 7 Hawaii (19-9, 13-6) at No. 1 USC (21-4, 16-3)
WHERE: North Gym, Los Angeles
WHEN: 4 p.m., HST tomorrow
TV/RADIO: KFVE (Ch. 5), live, KCCN-1420AM, live
REALAUDIO: Click here
The seventh-ranked Rainbows (19-9, 13-6) hope to stick around for next Thursday's MPSF semifinals and the April 29 final.
And if they win the conference championship of men's volleyball's equivalent to the SEC in football, squared?
Then anything is possible.
The unspoken thoughts of the Ft. Wayne, Ind., final four for this smallish, inconsistent team might seem laughable, the Rainbows' dreams aren't totally unrealistic.
While Hawaii's 9-1 record the last month of the season was amassed against weak competition, it has beaten two No. 1-ranked teams (Long Beach State and Pepperdine) and taken a third (UCLA) to the limit.
"We've shown we can play with and beat the best," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "But sometimes we go somewhere else and we're not there."
UH will have to be there to beat yet another No. 1 tomorrow and make the first step. The Trojans (21-4, 16-3) are imposing, and they are hot. USC has won 10 of its last 11 matches.
Like the Rainbows, the Trojans suffered a mid-season slump due to injuries. But USC got better, beating Hawaii twice, March 3-4, after losing three of its previous four matches.
The Rainbows led both matches against USC, but suffered injuries to hitter Eyal Zimet and setter Stefan Krejci. Since then, the Trojans have lost only once -- at Long Beach State, which, was avenged Saturday in the regular-season finale.
"We've been doing pretty well," USC coach Pat Powers said. "Brook (Billings) and Eli (Fairfield) had stress fracture problems, but that's behind us now."
Billings, a 6-foot-5 sophomore outside hitter, is considered by some the best young player in the nation. He averages 6.79 kills a game.
Fairfield, a 6-7 junior who also attacks from the outside, averages 5.17 kills. Fairfield blasted the UH block for 40 kills in one of the March victories.
Setter Donald Suxho (6-5 senior) is also one of the best around, and is an intimidating serving force.
Hawaii's serving has been devastating lately as well. UH had 14 aces in the first match against Pacific last week.
It's doubtful the Rainbows can count on such a bonanza tomorrow. USC is focused on a national championship, while Pacific was playing out the string.
There has been talk that North Gym's tiny dimensions will curtail the Rainbows' ability to jump serve. Eyal Zimet and Clay Stanley - two UH players who like to get a running start - both say that the lack of room behind the endline doesn't affect their serves.
What the gym's intimacy does affect is the ability for a television crew to shoot the match.
KFVE personnel are unhappy because they were originally told by the MPSF that the match would be held at the Lyon Center, which seats close to 4,000, and is much more conducive to television. Also, KFVE is being charged by USC for the seats in that it is displacing in order to televise.
"We shouldn't even be here," play-by-play man Jim Leahey said.
The UH players don't really care where the match is held, even though they lost at North Gym twice already this season and USC is 12-0 here.
"We don't have bad memories of (North Gym)," Zimet said. "We weren't the same team then.''
Ka Leo O Hawaii