RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Hawaii tries to avoid getting 'roofed'
Physically ready, mentally prepared.
That's the game plan for No. 6 Hawaii when it faces top-ranked Pepperdine tomorrow and Friday. The Warriors (4-3, 2-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) had nearly two weeks off to prepare for the defending NCAA champion Waves, who are always tough, and even tougher at home.
The Waves (6-1, 6-1) haven't lost at Firestone Fieldhouse in 17 matches, dating back to April 16, 2004. That was when the Warriors won there for the first time since 1989 -- the fifth time in 21 matches against Pepperdine in Malibu -- to give UH coach Mike Wilton his first victory there.
"Their gym is a little different," Hawaii senior hitter Jose Delgado said. "They feel very comfortable at home. The ceiling is low and they know how to play the balls off it.
"We know this will be some of the toughest games of the year. They're really good and there's always a good crowd when Hawaii comes. It will be fun."
Pepperdine is coming off a split at BYU, including a rare sweep of the Cougars in Smith Fieldhouse last Saturday, 30-28, 30-28, 32-30. On Friday, BYU handed Pepperdine its only loss of the season, 20-30, 30-28, 30-22, 30-21.
"What was good (about Saturday) was we were behind in each of the games and came back," said Pepperdine junior hitter Jon Grobe, a 2002 Iolani graduate. "Marv (Pepperdine coach Dunphy) made key adjustments the second night.
"Hawaii will be a big test. We haven't watched film on them but I know a lot of their players. I've played with Dio (Dante), Eric (Kalima), Sean (Carney) and Jose. (Setter) Brian Beckwith is solid and Marv thinks Hawaii's one of the best side-out teams in the country."
Both teams know it will be all about serving and passing this week.
Hawaii's defense is anchored by senior libero Alfred Reft, who is second in the MPSF with a 3.92 dig average. Pepperdine's three-man passing scheme has a trio who never passed in college prior to this season in Grobe, freshman libero J.D. Schleppenbach and hitter John Parfitt.
"We're a work in progress with our passing," Dunphy said. "We're not real smooth right now, not meeting a lot of the standards that we know exist for us to be a good team.
"We've played well enough to win a couple of tight matches. The key to us beating BYU was steadying out the second night. BYU is pretty physical."
Dunphy said he hadn't seen film on Hawaii yet, but has seen the Warriors' match statistics as well as those from the MPSF. According to the latest data, Hawaii was leading the league in hitting percentage (.386), kills (17.38 kpg) and assists (16.15 apg).
"Their numbers suggest they're one of the really good teams in the league," Dunphy said. "We know the quality that exists in their players and coaches.
"We have a lot of respect for them. We know they'll be good and we'll have to be good."
Given the balance in the MPSF this season, being good won't be good enough to win most nights.
"The teams are so even," Reft said. "On any given night, regardless of ranking, anyone can win or lose. The gaps between teams are so minimal.
"Pepperdine is big and good but I feel confident in our abilities. We can't worry about them. We need to get the job done on our side of the court."
And the ceiling above it.
"We do practice hitting the balls off the ceiling," Grobe said. "Marv throws balls up there. But the way the balls come off ... there is no method to the madness.
"I'm not sure what it is about our gym. It's not intimidating like (UCLA's) Pauley Pavilion or with the depth perception problems at the Pyramid (at Long Beach State). We're just comfortable at home."
Just as Grobe has become comfortable as a starter. The 6-foot-3 junior waited through a redshirt year and the past two seasons to become a full-time player.
"I just had to wait my turn, wait for some really good guys to graduate," said Grobe, who is third on the team in kills (3.52 kpg) and fourth in blocks (0.88 bpg).
It was about more than waiting, Dunphy said.
"He's really worked hard to improve his game," Dunphy said of Grobe. "He's a tough kid."
Injury report: UH senior opposite Matt Bender (ankle sprain) will not make the road trip. He is expected to be ready for next week's series against Long Beach State.
Pepperdine is back at full strength. Senior Andy Hein had been sidelined earlier with a sprained right ankle, which opened the door for freshman Eric Liebert (Punahou '04) to play in five games.
Radio change: KKEA (1420-AM) is not broadcasting the Hawaii-Pepperdine games.
The Internet broadcast is available by logging on to www.pepperdinesports.collegesports.com.