RAINBBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Warriors begin road trip with tough Matadors
Very little separates the Nos. 4 and 5 teams in men's volleyball, both of which are hoping this week's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation series create some separation in the standings.
Fourth-ranked Hawaii (7-4, 5-3 MPSF) and fifth-ranked Cal State Northridge (8-5, 4-4) are both on the smallish side, but more than compensate with quickness and athleticism.
HAWAII AT CS NORTHRIDGE
When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m. Hawaii time; Saturday, 9 a.m. Hawaii time
Radio: Live, KKEA (1420-AM)
Series: Hawaii leads 35-12
Both have taken defending national champion Pepperdine to five before falling at the Waves' Firestone Fieldhouse.
And both know more about life on the road than they care to, with the Warriors opening a four-matches-in-five-days trek tomorrow and the Matadors playing just their third home match of the season.
"I'm just glad we're the home team for these two," CSUN coach Jeff Campbell said. "These are big matches for both teams. Both teams are really good and have been playing really well.
"We're very excited to have them here. I don't know if there's one key to winning but being home is an advantage ... I hope."
Campbell admits to "saying a little prayer" that his junior opposite Dan Rhodes has another big night. Last Saturday, Rhodes became the fifth NCAA Division I-II player in rally scoring history to put down 40 or more kills with a 41-kill effort -- in 71 attempts -- in the loss at Pepperdine.
Rhodes also had 20 kills, hitting .567, to lead CSUN to a sweep of USC. His two performances added up to Rhodes being named the national player of the week.
Campbell said part of Rhodes' success was due to the improving connection between the 6-foot-5 opposite and first-year setter Travis Bluemling, a 6-4 sophomore.
"We have a first-year guy and we're still working out the kinks," Campbell said. "It all came together last week."
While the Matadors have an obvious go-to player in Rhodes, the Warriors have been relying on balance and a quick attack. Both offenses hinge on the passing game, which can easily be disrupted by tough serving.
Thanks to solid passing, Hawaii leads the MPSF in hitting percentage (.368) and kills (16.75 kpg). It has allowed junior setter Brian Beckwith to spread the offense with impressive results: hitters Jose Delgado, Lauri Hakala and Matt Carere all averaging above 3.6 kills a game.
Northridge is second in the league in aces (1.538), led by Cary Hanson's 23. The Matadors have 72 aces as a team, and have been aced 40 times; the Warriors have 33 aces, giving up 37.
"They're a very good serving team," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said of CSUN. "They have good balance and experience. They have a new setter and a freshman outside hitter (Eric Vance) but they're experienced in the middle and they have Rhodes.
"Just like it is every night, it's about who serves and passes the best."
And every day, too. Saturday's rematch is a rare morning start at 11, kicking off a tripleheader at the Matadome that includes a regionally televised men's basketball game at 3 p.m. and a women's basketball game at 8 p.m.
The Matadors' co-captain is Kamehameha product Isaac Kneubuhl, a sophomore hitter who is fourth in kills (2.34 kpg) and third in digs (1.76 dpg).
"Isaac's a great passer and a great leader," Campbell said.
The matches feature two of the top liberos in the country, Hawaii senior Alfred Reft, the national dig-leader at 3.66 dpg, and CSUN's Sebastian Pedraza, ranked 10th at 2.61 dpg.