[ OUR OPINION ]
Welcome home to
diverse UH volleyballers
PREDRAG Savovich called this year's University of Hawaii basketball team the "United Nations team." Fellow countryman Dejan Miladinovic says he and his volleyball teammates can claim the same moniker after bringing the first men's national championship home to UH. International diversity has been a magic formula this year for success in sports on the Manoa campus.
THE ISSUEThe UH Warrior volleyball team has captured its first national championship.
The Warrior volleyball team's victory over Pepperdine in the NCAA title match at State College, Pa., was long in coming. The women's volleyball team won three NCAA titles in the 1980s, but the national crown had eluded the men's team, although it has been within grasp for years.
The Warriors have been a powerhouse throughout the history of the 10-year-old Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, whose present teams have claimed all but one of the national titles in volleyball in the past 33 years of such competition. UH was national runner-up in 1996.
Volleyball is a bigger sport in Hawaii than elsewhere in the country and is a frequent ingredient of social gatherings at parks and beaches. The isles have become a fertile source of outstanding volleyball players, banded together by coach Mike Wilton with an assortment of talent from around the globe.
The championship team was led by three-time All-American Costas Theocharidis of Greece, selected last year's national player of the year as a sophomore and named the most valuable player in last week's final four. Serbian national Miladinovic, also an All-America selection, led the country in blocks. (Basketball star Savovic is from the other Yugoslavian republic of Montenegro.) Other teammates are from Cuba, Canada, Israel and Puerto Rico, as well as Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.
The spotlight during the championship game against Pepperdine turned to Tony Ching, a Kamehameha Schools graduate who turned in his top performance of year, with 17 kills, and joined Theocharidis on the all-tournament team. Theocharidis credited Ching with stepping forward with the offensive surge needed to win the title match.
In a peculiarly cunning move, UH President Evan Dobelle created crowd support for the team by flying in Vili "the Warrior" Fehoko to sound his drums in Penn State's Recreation Hall, as well as 200 ti-leaf hats for spectators. The strategy worked. "We felt like we were in Hawaii," Miladinovic said.
The irrepressible Serb and other Warriors, whatever their fatherlands, obviously have found a place they can call home. Hawaii is flattered by the affection and proud to be that home-court advantage for as long as they like.
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