RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Road slate Finnish at Pacific, finishes at Stanford
The small world of college men's volleyball becomes even smaller Saturday when No. 3 Hawaii and No. 12 Pacific meet in Stockton, Calif.
The only two male Finnish players competing in the U.S. will be on opposite sides of the net: Warrior junior hitter Lauri Hakala and Tiger sophomore hitter Pekka Seppanen. They not only share a common nationality and military background (Army officer in reconnaissance), but also have each other on speed dial.
Who: No. 3 Hawaii (15-4, 11-3) at No. 14 Pacific (7-13, 5-9)
When: Saturday and Monday, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Series: Hawaii leads 26-1
"I talk to him maybe 2-3 times a week," Hakala said as Hawaii prepared for its final regular-season road trip. "He's one of my best friends and a very good player, a good indoor player and a great beach player.
"I've played against him and with him in beach volleyball. It's going to be good for us to see each other, a little bit of home, pretty much being the only Finns playing in America."
The two last saw each other over Christmas break in December. Their friendship goes back years, as both have been in their country's national-team program since the youth level.
Hakala's Pieksamaen Lukio team won the Finnish high school championship in 2001, while Seppanen's Kastelli team finished second that year, winning the prep title in 2000 and 2003.
In addition, Seppanen and Hakala's younger brother, Anssi, took the silver medal at last summer's European Under-21 Beach Volleyball Championship.
Seppanen, the only Tiger to play in all 72 games this season, is third on the team in kills (3.19 kpg). Hakala, who has played all but one of the Warriors' 68 games, is second in kills for UH (3.88 kpg)
"Playing against him will be the highlight, the best road matches for me," Hakala said.
Both Finns are listed at 6-foot-2. Coincidentally, Hawaii is 6-2 on the road while Pacific is 6-2 at home.
Both teams are on a relative roll. The Warriors have won 11 straight and the Tigers are coming off upsets of Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, the first time they've won two in a row.
That it's the last regular-season road trip of his career is "a little sad," Warrior senior hitter Jose Delgado said. "But we still have more games and I want to keep improving the rest of the season."
Also on their final regular-season road trips are senior hitters Matt Carere and Matt Bender, middle Mauli'a La Barre and libero Alfred Reft.
Reft should become UH's all-time dig leader early in Saturday's match. In his third season with the Warriors, he has 737 career digs and needs just three to pass All-American Allen Allen's total of 739.
Allen, an outside hitter, played four seasons (1986-89). His record is UH's only career mark that remains from the 1980s, one set two decades before the libero position was introduced to college volleyball.
Notes: Hawaii and Pacific play again Monday. The Warriors finish their road trip at Stanford (4-18, 2-14) on Wednesday and Thursday.