RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Hawaii still working out the kinks
But they will have to hurry to get it right with Santa Barbara in town for 2 matches
It was a case of temporary identity theft. At least that's what Ken Preston hopes when his UC Santa Barbara men's volleyball team takes on Hawaii twice this week in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matches.
The fourth-ranked Gauchos (8-3, 6-2 MPSF) had been cruising along until last Saturday when their three-match winning streak was washed away by Pepperdine. The Waves' victory was so convincing that Preston was one of two coaches who voted Pepperdine No. 1 in this week's national poll.
UCSB AT UH
When: Tomorrow and Friday, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
Series: UH leads 39-22
"We've been playing pretty well," said Preston, whose only league loss prior to Saturday was to then-No. 1 UC Irvine in five. "We have our identity. But we lost it against Pepperdine.
"This could be a pretty good series. We're not a big team, neither is Hawaii. For a key, I'd look to the middles, our two against their three. But what it really comes down to is serve and pass."
That belief is one of several things Preston and Warriors coach Mike Wilton have in common. The two avid surfers are Santa Barbara natives and graduated from San Marcos High a few years apart -- although their prep athletic paths never crossed, with Wilton playing basketball and Preston football.
"I remember Kenny as a good guy growing up," Wilton said. "And he's a very good volleyball coach with a really good team.
"They serve it good and pass it good. And that's two things we're not very good at yet."
Case -- rather, cases -- in point.
» UCSB leads the conference in aces (59) while Hawaii is last (11).
» Senior setter Bart Kowalski, ranked second in assists, has the Gauchos hitting a league-best .388; the Warriors are ninth at .263.
» UCSB also leads the MPSF in kills (499) with UH 10th (288).
However, the one thing Hawaii is good at is blocking. The Warriors are second in the MPSF with 3.45 bpg, and have two of the league's top blockers in senior Dio Dante (1.82 bpg) and freshman Matt Rawson (1.58).
Still, Hawaii will have to contend with senior opposite Evan Patak,
who leads the nation in kills (193), aces (32) and points (238); the latter statistic which combines kills, aces and blocks.
Patak led the country in kills both as a sophomore and junior. He missed the latter part of last season when academically ineligible "and he knows I'll shoot him if he does that again," said Preston, who is three victories shy of 500. Patak's having a great year and we look to him a lot."
Patak has taken over a third of the Gauchos' kill attempts but UCSB is not a one-man show. Junior middle Theo Brunner (3.0 kpg, .528, 1.58 bpg) and senior middle David Kennedy (2.51 kpg, .503, 1.08 bpg) are also having solid seasons.
While the Gauchos are fairly set with their lineup, the Warriors are still searching for theirs, as senior All-Americans Brian Beckwith, at setter, and left-side hitter Lauri Hakala are the only ones to have started all eight matches. But Hakala is still resting a strained abdominal muscle, which opens up a number of possibilities on the outside where five other players have started so far.
Sophomore Jim Clar, 13th nationally at 4.50 kpg, appears to have found a home at opposite and senior libero Eric Kalima has been Hawaii's steadiest performer. But the questions remain for the two left-side hitters and one of two middle spots.
Freshman Ernie Vidinha and junior Jake Schkud had some success on the left side in the losses to UCLA last week. Also in the mix is freshmen Matt Vanzant and Steven Grgas, as well as sophomore Mark Ribeiro, who has yet to play this season.
"We have been trying to get in system," Clar said. "We have games where we serve better, ones we pass better, ones we hit better. Once we put it all together, we'll be set.
"We had good matches against Pacific (three weeks ago for the only victories) but we have things we need to work on. All we can do for now is keep working hard because everything we have to work on we know we can do."
Especially serving where Hawaii has 17 aces overall to 141 service errors.
"To be a real effective server, you have to have an arm," Wilton said. "And you have to put in a lot of reps. Ninety-five percent of being a stud is believing you are. If you have a lot of self-doubt then you have problems."
Notes: Hawaii dropped out of the Volleyball magazine Top 10 released yesterday. ... Senior middle Dio Dante is fourth nationally in hitting percentage (.535) and tied for 17th in blocks per game (1.24 bpg). He is seventh on the UH career list in block assist and 10th in total blocks.