RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Warriors swept Douglas College of Canada in a pair of exhibition matches last weekend. Hawaii opens MPSF play tomorrow at UC Santa Barbara.
Warriors warmed up for MPSF
Hawaii starts the season on the road for the first time since 1992
Last weekend, Ken Preston got a personal preview of just how tough life will be in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball this season. Eight of the league's 12 teams were in his gym during the 42nd Elephant Bar Invitational, including his own UC Santa Barbara squad.
The observations from the veteran Gaucho coach ranged from "very good" (tournament winner and top-ranked Long Beach State) to "could be in a bit of trouble (last-place finisher Stanford).
Who: No. 7 Hawaii (0-0) at No. 8 UC Santa Barbara (1-2)
When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM. Live tomorrow, joined in progress after men's basketball Saturday.
Series: Hawaii leads 38-21 overall, 20-11 in Santa Barbara
Next up: 12th Outrigger Hotels Invitational, Jan. 18-20, Stan Sheriff Center (Hawaii, Ohio State, Penn State, UCLA)
One of the teams not on the Robertson Gym floor was seventh-ranked Hawaii. But that will change tomorrow when the Warriors open the season on the road for the first time since 1992 at UCSB.
The teams met at the Stan Sheriff Center twice last October, with Hawaii winning fairly easily both nights. UH coach Mike Wilton used a different setter each match -- junior Brian Beckwith the first, freshman Sean Carney the second -- and was able to play his entire roster.
Just who Wilton will put out on the court tomorrow is up in the air, as the coach uses a "cauldron system" that uses practice statistics to determine the lineup. The only given is that senior opposite Matt Bender (severely sprained ankle) is not on the trip.
From his view on the sidelines the past week, Bender has had the chance to evaluate his teammates' progress since October.
"Overall, we're pretty good," Bender said. "We have no superstar and that leads to a balanced offense. Read the scouting report on us. Everyone is a pretty good hitter and our setters can set everyone.
"A balanced attack is difficult to defend. We're dangerous. You saw what happened against Santa Barbara. We were spreading the ball around, seeing one blocker every time."
Preston's concern is as much with his team as it is with Hawaii.
"We were pretty bad over there," Preston said. "And the Warriors' quick offense poses a problem.
"We need to serve better to take them out of system. When they are in system, they are very quick and can destroy the block. Along with this, we need to play some defense in 1-on-1 situations."
While the Warriors warmed up with two quick exhibition wins over Douglas College from Canada last week, the Gauchos went 1-2 in their tournament. UCSB outlasted UC Irvine in five then was swept by UCLA and Cal State Northridge.
Preston's assessment of the Gauchos?
"We're athletic but way behind in skill development," he said. "But we're more familiar with our system and with each other than we were over there."
A look at the teams, in the order of finish predicted in the MPSF coaches preseason poll:
No. 1 Brigham Young
20-10, 15-7 MPSF
National rank: 4
Coach: Tom Peterson (4th season, 74-21)
Overview: The Cougars return six starters from a team that finished third in the conference and was ousted in the MPSF quarterfinals. Among their top returnees are senior All-America middle Victor Batista, sophomore All-America hitter Ivan Perez and senior setter Rob Neilson.
BYU (2-0) opened the season with two wins over NAIA power Cal Baptist last week. Perez had 21 kills in the four-game victory the first night, while senior hitter Taylor Evans had a career outing (15 kills, .636) in the sweep the second night, when the Cougars hit .607.
Fun fact: Since 1997, the Cougars have compiled the best record in the country (204-54), with three national titles (1999, 2001 and 2004). In that span, BYU is 122-17 in Smith Fieldhouse.
Hawaii connection: Jonathan Charette, who led Pearl City to a second-place finish in the 2002 state tournament, has transferred from Long Beach City College. The 6-2 junior opposite had six kills and no errors in 14 attempts in Saturday's sweep ... Also on the BYU roster is Va'afuti Tavana, a 6-8 freshman hitter from Kauai High who will likely redshirt.
26-6, 18-4 MPSF
National rank: 2
Coach: Al Scates (44th, 1,111-201)
Overview: The Bruins lost more than half of their starting lineup from the team that finished second to Pepperdine for the national title. But many observers feel UCLA has final-four potential and the ability to give Scates his 19th NCAA banner.
UCLA (2-1) opened a three-week road trip with a second-place finish at the Elephant Bar Invitational at UC Santa Barbara, falling to Long Beach State in four in the championship match. The Bruins are at UC Irvine tomorrow before heading to Hawaii for next week's Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
Back for UCLA are senior setter Dennis Gonzales and sophomore libero Tony Ker. Junior hitter Paul George, who had a career-high 18 kills against Long Beach State, leads the team at 4.00 kpg.
Fun fact: UCLA spent 17 days last fall touring and competing in Italy, going 6-4. The Bruins finished 8-1 in the preseason, including a 3-1 record when traveling to Canada.
3. Long Beach State
22-10, 14-8 MPSF
National rank: 1
Coach: Alan Knipe (6th, 101-55)
Overview: The 49ers have four starters back from the squad that fell to Pepperdine in the MPSF tournament final. After not receiving the at-large berth into the final four, The Beach has plenty of motivation.
Back for their senior season are All-Americans Tyler Hildebrand (setter) and Robert Tarr (hitter). The big Beach block is anchored by 6-8 middles Duncan Budinger and Teddy Liles.
The 49ers (4-0) swept through last week's Elephant Bar Invitational, defeating UCLA in the final. Hildebrand was named the MVP and was joined on the all-tourney team by Tarr and Liles.
The Beach beat up on UC San Diego last night in the MPSF opener for both teams, 30-24, 30-21, 30-21. Budinger had 13 kills, hitting .817, and was in on seven of the team's 16 blocks.
Fun fact: This month's issue of Volleyball Magazine lists Long Beach State as having the No. 1 recruiting class. Knipe brought in eight true freshmen and junior setter Bryce Baum, a transfer from Irvine Valley College.
Hawaii connection: Baum's IVC team is coached by former Warrior Tom Pestolesi.
25-2, 20-2 MPSF
National rank: 3
Coach: Marv Dunphy (22nd, 385-153)
Overview: The Waves open their title defense without one of the best players in their history, hitter Sean Rooney, a four-time All-American and the national player of the year.
Pepperdine does return four of its starters from the team that stunned UCLA at Pauley Pavilion last May in the NCAA final.
Leading the Waves are All-America senior middle Andy Hein and sophomore setter Jonathan Winder, last season's national newcomer of the year and the league's freshman of the year.
Also on the roster is 6-7 freshman hitter Paul Carroll from Australia, who was recruited by Hawaii before committing to the Waves.
Fun fact: Last year's championship squad was the first to beat UCLA in the national championship match on its home court in 10 contests.
Hawaii connection: On the roster are junior hitter Jon Grobe (Iolani) and freshman hitter Eric Liebert (Punahou).
19-9, 15-7 MPSF
National rank: 7
Coach: Mike Wilton (14th, 260-114).
Overview: The Warriors return six of seven starters, including All-America senior libero Alfred Reft, the MPSF's Defensive Player of the Year.
Hawaii is running a quick attack that will utilize the team's athleticism. For the first time in a long time, there is no superstar; the Warriors graduated All-America hitter Pedro Azenha.
The balance is a blessing and a curse. The lack of a go-to player means there is no one to bail the team out, a la Azenha, Costas Theocharidis, Yuval Katz, etc.
The blessing is the team will rely on everyone to be successful. The motto? Live and die as a team, which has a very deep roster.
Senior opposite Matt Bender (severe ankle sprain) is out for at least another month, which might not hurt the Warriors this weekend at UC Santa Barbara but could next week in the Outrigger Hotels Invitational (UCLA, Penn State and Ohio State).
Fun fact: Associate head coach Tino Reyes, a Molokai High graduate, played volleyball at Cal Poly SLO and basketball at Hawaii-Hilo.
6. (tie) Cal State Northridge
19-14, 10-12 MPSF
National rank: 5
Coach: Jeff Campbell (9th, 109-118)
Overview: The Matadors (2-1) took third at the Elephant Bar Invitational with wins over Pacific and host UCSB. The loss came in five games to eventual tournament champion and top-ranked Long Beach State.
CSUN lost All-American Nils Nielsen and setter Jeff Conover, but the other five starters are back, led by All-America middle Brian Waite. Junior opposite Dan Rhodes has returned from an injury-plagued sophomore year and was named to the all-tournament team after playing in just two of the matches. He had 24 kills against the 49ers and 14 against the Gauchos.
Fun fact: After improving its mark in season openers to 19-11 with the win over Pacific, Northridge looks to improve on its mark of 12-17 in conference season openers this week at BYU. The Matadors are 2-6 under Campbell when opening on the road.
Hawaii connection: Sophomore hitter Isaac Kneubuhl (Kamehameha) is fourth on the team in kills (2.64 kpg) and digs (1.82 dpg).
6. (tie) UC Santa Barbara
16-14, 13-9 MPSF
National rank: 8
Coach: Ken Preston (27th, 459-320)
Overview: The Gauchos (1-2) finished fourth in their own Elephant Bar Invitational last week, opening with a 3-2 win over UC Irvine before being swept by UCLA and Cal State Northridge.
Junior All-America opposite Evan Patak started this season the same way he finished last season: hot. He had 57 kills and 10 aces in three matches last week, including half (16 of 32) of UCSB's kills in the 3-0 loss to the Matadors.
Last year's setter, Bart Kowalski, is redshirting, leaving the Gauchos' offense in the hands of senior Dale Jensen and freshman Max Klineman. Joining UCSB on the outside is Santa Monica City transfer Derek Otte, a high school teammate of Hawaii's Brian Beckwith and Jake Schkud.
Fun fact: After two seasons on the Gaucho basketball team, 6-foot-6 junior middle David Kennedy has returned to volleyball, the sport in which he was originally recruited.
8. UC Irvine
9-20, 7-15 MPSF
National rank: 9.
Coach: John Speraw (4th, 46-50).
Overview: The Anteaters have nowhere to go but up, with all seven starters back from a team that finished ninth.
UCI (3-1) finished fifth in last week's Elephant Bar Invitational at UCSB, falling to the host Gauchos 3-2 but coming back with sweeps of Stanford and USC. The Anteaters also defeated Cal Baptist in five to open the season.
UCI is still young, with one senior in Paul Spittle, who has moved from libero to the outside. Junior opposite Matt Webber leads the Anteaters with a 4.19 kpg followed by junior hitter Jayson Jablonsky's 3.69 kpg.
Fun fact: Among the five players signed by Speraw in the fall is Anthony Spittle, the younger brother of UCI players Paul and Nick.
Hawaii connection: Iolani School product Brent Asuka, a freshman libero, replaced Paul Spittle in the lineup and has played all 16 games. He is averaging a team-best 1.69 digs per game.
12-18, 6-16 MPSF
National rank: 12.
Coach: Joe Wortmann (14th, 144-203).
Overview: The Tigers did very well when traveling north for the preseason, winning the Dino Cup in Calgary with a 4-0 record. They had problems when heading south last week, going 1-2 in UCSB's Elephant Bar Invitational.
After losses to CSU Northridge and USC, UOP rebounded to top Stanford in four. It was the Tigers' third straight win over the Cardinal; UOP won both meetings in the Calgary tournament, including a 3-1 victory in the title match.
UOP returns just one starter from last season in junior setter Mitch Hazelett. The Tigers will rely heavily on senior hitter Brian Adamson, who was the Dino Cup MVP, and two foreign newcomers: Andreas Baboulidis, a 6-3 junior hitter from Germany, and Pekka Seppanen, a 6-2 sophomore hitter from Finland.
Fun fact: Wortmann is the only coach the Tigers have known, upgrading the club program to D-I status in 1992.
Hawaii connection: UOP assistant coach Dan Fisher began his playing career at UH (1995-96) before transferring to Pacific for his last two seasons. He was captain and an All-MPSF setter for the Tigers.
10. Southern California
6-23, 3-19 MPSF
National rank: NR
Coach: Turhan Douglas (4th, 14-68).
Overview: The young Trojans -- 15 freshmen and sophomores on the roster -- are expected to continue to struggle. But this might be the last season for that -- USC has talent, it is just untested.
Three starters are back, including outstanding senior hitter/libero Joao Grangeiro and his rocket serve. Sophomore setter Jimmy Killian, who missed part of last year with an illness, is healthy and stronger after working out with the USC football team.
The Trojans (1-2) landed the top freshman in the country in 6-7 C.J. Schellenberg, a teammate of Killian's at nearby Loyola High -- the alma mater of Hawaii's Beckwith and Schkud. The Trojans also ended up with Lewis transfer James Wilkes, who had originally committed to Hawaii.
Fun fact: Backup freshman setter Hunter Haley is the son of USC women's coach Mick Haley.
Hawaii connection: USC's reserve opposite is freshman B.J. Takushi (Iolani). "B.J.'s been a real surprise for us," Douglas said. "He has stepped up his game. He will help us."
11-15, 10-12 MPSF
National rank: 11
Coach: Don Shaw (7th, 91-82)
Overview: The Cardinal (1-3), plagued by injuries last season, have struggled so far this year with their only win coming against UC Santa Cruz in their opener. Stanford went 0-3 at the Elephant Bar Invitational, with losses to UCI, UCLA and UOP.
Senior opposite Ben Reddy leads the team (3.79 kpg). The Cardinal sorely miss All-America setter Kevin Hansen. The young offense is in the hands of freshman Miki Groppi.
Fun fact: Shaw announced last November that this would be his last season with the Cardinal; assistant John Kosty has been named as his successor. This is Shaw's 26th year at the school -- the first 18 were spent in the women's program.
Hawaii connection: Iolani senior Kawika Shoji has committed to play for the Cardinal next season. He will join his sister Cobey, the women's director of volleyball operations, on campus.
12. UC San Diego
2-24, 1-21 MPSF
National rank: Unranked
Coach: Kevin Ring (1st).
Overview: Ring takes over for Ron Larsen, who resigned after five seasons to become an assistant with the USA men's national team.
The Division II Tritons (0-1) opened the season last night with a loss to top-ranked Long Beach State. Chris Sayers had 13 kills in the match that took less than 90 minutes.
It won't get any easier the rest of the season.
Fun fact: Ring, who has a B.A. in biochemistry and a masters in chemistry, has been on the chemistry faculty at the University of San Diego since 2001 and was the assistant for the Toreros women's volleyball team the past two seasons.
Hawaii connection: Junior middle Garret Smith, a high school teammate and classmate of Warriors Beckwith and Schkud, had four kills against the 49ers last night.