JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dio Dante and the Warriors defeated Jamie Diefenbach twice in three regular-season matches this year.
UCLA is standing in UH’s way again
The Bruins have eliminated the Warriors five times in six tries
They've been having so much fun playing, they don't want it to end. And especially not tonight against a team that has ended more of Hawaii's hopes and dreams -- not to mention seasons -- than any other.
UCLA has been more than a four-letter word when it comes to Hawaii volleyball. It's been a three-letter one, as in pau, most of the time because the Bruins are 5-1 in playoff matches against the Warriors, dating back to the first time Hawaii advanced to the postseason in 1981.
To prevent history from repeating itself, the No. 2 Warriors (23-4) don't expect to change anything when seeing the No. 7 Bruins (21-12) for the fourth time this year. While UCLA has gone through a metamorphosis since last playing here in March -- winning its last nine -- Hawaii has continued to play steady, leading to a school-record 19-match win streak.
"UCLA has gone with so many lineups this season," Warriors senior libero Alfred Reft said. "The beauty of what we do is we can't go crazy over who they're going to send out on the floor. We're not going to worry too much about that because, ultimately, it's all about what's going on on our side of the net.
"We've put ourselves in control and there's no 'ohmygawd, they have so-and-so on their side.' Know what? They're going to have this guy and that guy, but we know what we have and we have to keep doing what we've been doing."
If the Warriors continue to run their quick offense and win the serve-and-pass battle, UC Santa Barbara coach Ken Preston gives Hawaii the edge. Preston's Gauchos fell to the Bruins 3-1 in Wednesday's play-in match, but UCSB won Game 1 and had chances to win Game 2, won eventually by UCLA, 31-29.
"I think if we win Game 2, we are heading west (to Hawaii)," Preston said Thursday. "We led in blocks 14-2 after Game 2. Obviously, that went south for us in 3 and 4 when (UCLA) began to pass better.
"If UH serves the ball well, they should win. And I think (junior hitter Lauri) Hakala is very key. If he is good, Hawaii will win with their speed."
It was Hakala's effectiveness (21 kills, .400) that helped the Warriors beat Brigham Young last Saturday in five. Senior middle Mauli'a La Barre added 11 kills, with no errors on 13 swings.
UCLA coach Al Scates is concerned with Hawaii's balanced offense.
"They have such a good trio of outside hitters," Scates said of Hakala, Jose Delgado and Matt Carere. "And their middles (Dio Dante and LaBarre) are hitting at a high efficiency. We can't key on anybody, they have too many options.
"It comes down to taking care of our side of the net. We need to make it hard for them to score points when they are serving."
Scates said he hadn't decided which setter he'd start tonight, senior Dennis Gonzalez or freshman Matt Wade. Gonzalez gave the Bruins a lift when coming into Wednesday's UCSB match in the middle of Game 2, only the second match he's played in since spraining his ankle in the March 10 loss at Hawaii.
UCLA lost its next two matches with Wade as a starter, dropping to 12-12. The Bruins ran the table to finish the regular season at 20-12 and added their ninth straight win Wednesday.
"We were a .500 team and not very impressive," said Scates, in his 44th season with 18 NCAA titles. "Lately, we've upped it a bit and a lot of players are playing their best ball all year."
Junior opposite Steve Klosterman is nearly recovered from his reconstructive shoulder surgery. He put down a career-high 30 kills last Friday at Cal State Northridge and had 22 against UCSB on Wednesday.
Hawaii is 2-1 against UCLA this season, the lone loss coming in five Jan. 20 at the Outrigger Invitational. The Warriors had match point at 14-13 in Game 5 but gave up three straight points to lose it 16-14.
"That first meeting was early for us," Hakala said. "We were ready to play, but we weren't set on a lineup. We are now.
"UCLA is a good team and I admire the fact that they've been on top for such a long time. They can play well, we can play well. We can beat them because we are the better team. History also happens today. You live in the now."
The Bruins hold the series edge at 45-18 -- 23-13 in Honolulu. Besides 1981, UCLA has ended Hawaii's season in the MPSF quarterfinals in 2004, the MPSF championship of 2001, as well as in the 1996 NCAA title match. (The Bruins also won the 1995 MPSF title match. The Warriors went on to lose both matches at the final four, finishing fourth.) Hawaii's only win was in the 1999 quarterfinal.
"We're playing with the conviction that we eventually can take it all," Reft said. "There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance and you should never play with arrogance.
"You have to play with confidence but never underestimate or downplay your opponent, especially when it's UCLA. That would be foolish."
Note: Sophomore middle Kyle Klinger, who started in the January loss to UCLA, will not play the rest of the season. Although he's been cleared to practice after weeks of being out with a broken toe, he would not be included on the 12-man travel roster should Hawaii advance with a victory tonight.