RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Hot Hawaii to play tonight's winner
The Warriors start their postseason Saturday against UCLA or UCSB
A day after enjoying its "end-of-the-year" banquet, the Hawaii volleyball team was back working on a way to keep the party -- and the season -- going.
The second-seeded Warriors won't know who Saturday's quarterfinal opponent will be until tonight when they learn the outcome of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament's play-in match at Pauley Pavilion between No. 7 UCLA and No. 9 UC Santa Barbara. The winner will have a short turnaround for the long flight to Honolulu; the loser stays home with a long time to think about next year.
The Bruins are the odds-on favorite to make their third trip out here in four months. UCLA has won its last eight, salvaging what had been a sub-.500 MPSF season to finish 12-10, 20-12 overall.
The Bruins' run includes a 95-minute sweep of visiting UCSB last Wednesday. The Gauchos (13-15, 9-13) have lost their last three, all without junior All-American opposite Evan Patak, the national leader in kill average (5.88 kpg, 6.06 in MPSF) and aces (52), who was declared academically ineligible for the spring quarter.
"The NCAA made a rule across the board that athletes had to pass six units to
be eligible the following term," UCSB coach Ken Preston said. "It is a raw deal for schools on the quarter system, which we are, but Evan was very irresponsible and let everyone down. He only passed five units."
Even with Patak earlier this season, the Gauchos did not have success against the Bruins. UCLA won in straight sets twice in Santa Barbara, in the UCSB Elephant Bar Classic as well as in MPSF play.
"UCLA is hot, hot, hot," said UC Irvine coach John Speraw, whose top-ranked team has a bye into the April 27 semifinal against either Long Beach State or Brigham Young. "I see them beating Santa Barbara and giving Hawaii a better battle than the last time they were out in the Islands. But Hawaii is hot, too. Should be a great match."
The Warriors aren't thinking much beyond today's practice, hoping to get starting junior setter Brian Beckwith back in Gym I. Beckwith, who tweaked his right knee last Friday against BYU, was under the weather yesterday and did not practice.
Reserve freshman setter Sean Carney told associate coach Tino Reyes to get his hands ready, but the former setter wasn't pressed into duty during the workout.
UCLA, however, has gone with a different setter since losing senior Dennis Gonzalez (sprained left ankle) during the March 11 loss to Hawaii. Freshman Matt Wade, son of former Rainbow Wahine All-American Rocky Elias Wade, has started the past nine matches with the Bruins going 8-1.
Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said he expected at least one upset during the tournament.
"Surprising things have happened," he said.
Last year, the 49ers surprised the host Warriors in a quarterfinal. UCSB also pulled off an upset, stunning BYU in five in Provo, and continuing the Gauchos' history of upsets.
The last time UCSB and UCLA met in the MPSF tournament was in 2002 when the Gauchos upended the Bruins on their home floor in five games. In 1996, UCSB toppled then-No. 1 Hawaii in an MPSF semifinal.
The Warriors respect whoever makes the trip. Two of Hawaii's four losses have come to the teams playing tonight: at UCSB in three to open the MPSF season and to UCLA in five the last night of the Outrigger Classic.
"Everyone is trying to push each other, which is what makes this team so great right now and, hopefully, great in May," UH senior hitter Matt Carere said. "The most exciting teams are the ones that roller-coaster, but the most successful ones are the ones that are steady."
All four of Hawaii's losses came in the first four weeks of the season, the last at Pepperdine in five on Feb. 9. Two days later, the Warriors swept the Waves, beginning their 19-match winning streak.