Warriors wary of Tigers
On any given night.
On any given night.
Hawaii at Pacific
When: Tonight and Monday, 5 p.m. HST
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Series: Hawaii leads, 26-1
It's a mantra chanted by all coaches, whether their team is the underdog or the prohibitive favorite. It has worked particularly well for the Pacific volleyball team this season.
Until March 10, the Tigers had not beaten anyone ahead of them in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings, and were sitting 10th in the 12-team league. Hopes of making the MPSF's eight-team postseason tournament were quickly dimming ... until UOP found magic and consistency and won two straight for the first time this year.
On consecutive nights two weeks ago, the Tigers knocked off Cal State Northridge in five and then swept UC Santa Barbara. Now in ninth place, and in a tight battle with USC and UCLA for that last playoff berth, No. 14 UOP goes for three in a row tonight when hosting No. 3 Hawaii.
"The last playoff spots always seem to be up for grabs the last few weeks of the season," said Joe Wortmann, the only coach the Tigers have known in the 15-year history of the program. "Pacific will practice hard and with intent each day and play their matches as they come. We can only deal with what is in our control.
"It remains to be seen (if the break will hurt or help)."
A loss to the Tigers would greatly hurt the Warriors' chances of winning their first MPSF regular-season title since 1996. Hawaii takes the momentum of an 11-match winning streak into tonight's match at the Spanos Center, where UOP is 6-2 this season.
"Pacific is a good team; everybody in this league is a good team," Warrior coach Mike Wilton said. "They pass well, they have a good blocking scheme and their setter (junior Mitchell Hazelett) is getting to be pretty good.
"They have a big, left-handed opposite (6-foot-9 senior Brian Adamson). Their middle (sophomore Simon Chen-Byerley) is doing a good job and they've got two good outside hitters."
Both outsides are in their first year at UOP, and bring international experience. Junior Andreas Baboulidis, a 6-3, Greek raised in Germany, is averaging 3.73 kills per game, hitting .300, with 14 aces.
Pekka Seppanen, a 6-2 sophomore from Finland, averages 3.19 kpg and has 23 of the team's 84 aces. Seppanen is the only Tiger to play in all 72 games this season, and was the MPSF player of the week after his combined 31-kill, 25-dig performance in the wins over the Matadors and Gauchos.
"Adamson has been solid for us," Wortmann said of his opposite who averages a team-best 4.44 kpg. "That opens up the offense for the outsides. Both (Seppanen and Baboulidis) are good competitors who go hard all the time."
Baboulidis missed six matches with an injury, returning for the matches against Northridge and UCSB. He had 22 kills, hit .415 with three aces against the Matadors, and eight kills vs. the Gauchos.
Wortmann said he hadn't seen Hawaii play until looking at the videotapes this week.
"But we really focus on what we can control -- namely, our effort and improving each day," Wortmann said.