Friday, March 9, 2001
Diggin itVernon Podlewski prowls the back row like a Rottweiler for the University of Hawaii men's volleyball team.
UH junior Vernon Podlewski plays
in the back row, but he's known for
chasing balls all over the place,
and he's the Division I
leader in digs
By Pat Bigold
If you get past the block of Dejan Miladinovic and Brenton Davis, you have to deal with him.
If you send a ball screaming to the boundary, he'll chase it down like his life depended on it.
If a hard blast deflects off a teammate's body and heads toward the second row, he'll bound over the press table and play it off your lap.
You'd better not have a beer in one hand and a chili dog in the other when he does.
"I'm the guy who cleans up the act, wipes the floor, takes out the trash," said Podlewski after a practice warmup earlier this week.
The grin on the stocky 5-foot-8, 175-pound libero's face showed exactly how he feels about his gritty role.
What: MPSF men's volleyball.
Who: Pepperdine vs. Hawaii.
When: 7 p.m. today and tomorrow.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center.
TV: Both games live on KFVE.
"I eat it up," he said.
His stats prove it.
Podlewski, a 24-year-old junior who was recruited out of Santa Barbara City College, is averaging 2.46 digs a game -- the best among NCAA Division I players.
"He's as good a coverage guy as there is in the entire country," said Hawaii head coach Mike Wilton.
The high point of Podlewski's season was an 18-dig effort in a five-game losing cause against UCLA on Jan. 19.
He's led Hawaii in digs seven times in 14 matches and he's reached double digits five times.
Wilton tried to recruit Podlewski out of Maui HighSchool in 1994. But the future Warrior spent the next six years working at a variety of jobs in Hawaii and California before his arrival in Manoa last fall.
Some of the jobs were well-suited to Podlewski's rough-and-tumble physique and attitude. He was a brick layer, rock wall builder, wood splitter, airport baggage handler and he even climbed telephone poles for a cable company.
"It kept me in shape," he said.
Ask Podlewski what situation he prefers to find himself in during a match and he'll tell you this:
"I like it when there are no blockers up, the hitter on the opposite side has a perfect chance to put the ball away, and I'm in the right spot."
He'll take the bullet dead-on every time, and then turn the gun around.
Podlewski said he also has a habit of getting into the conversation when players on the opposite side are trash-talking All-American outside hitter Costas Theocharidis. He sees it as his duty to divert the heat from Hawaii's offensive star.
"They're always after Costas because he's so good, but he's tough," said Podlewski.
Podlewski was a running back in his freshman year in high school before earning three letters in volleyball.
But he said playing football was not what shaped his combative mentality on the volleyball court.
"It was boxing," said Podlewski, a policeman's son who grew up near a gym in Hali'imaile.
"I just boxed in the gym and never had any real fights because my mother never signed the papers. But I sparred with any club that needed somebody. I had a good trainer. I could take and give a punch, and I was quick."
Wilton said he's glad Podlewski had that experience because boxing is a sport that forces an athlete to be self-reliant and intensely focused.
"Boxing really helped me react quickly with my hands, helped me focus on the hitters, and focus off the block," said Podlewski, who's been known to pound the heavy bag in the UH weight room.
"And it helped me mentally. I'm fighting the odds out there because they're bigger and I'm smaller."
He said after volleyball he might even try the ring.
"When I met Jesus Salud after a match, I told him if he ever needed a sparring partner, I'd do it," said Podlewski with a laugh.
Ka Leo O Hawaii