RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
UH hopes to keep BYU on losing streak
It can be done. Three teams have shown it is possible within the last two weeks, Pepperdine twice.
The question is: Can Hawaii?
Can the Warriors extend Brigham Young's losing streak to at least five?
No. 12 Hawaii (3-9, 3-7 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) is already in Provo, acclimating to the sub-freezing temperatures (lows around 29 degrees) and the altitude (4,625 feet). Snow is the forecast for tomorrow.
The Warriors will also have to deal with the chilly reception they'll receive tomorrow and Saturday at the 5,500-seat Smith Fieldhouse. Hawaii is 3-12 against the Cougars when coming to town.
Who: No. 12 Hawaii (3-9, 3-7) at No. 4 BYU (9-4, 5-3)
When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 4 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: Live, KKEA, 1420-AM.
Internet live stats: www.byucougars.com
"It's my first time at BYU and I've heard the stories about how tough it is to play there," sophomore hitter Jim Clar said. "I'm not worried about that. I like playing in those environments, with everyone rooting against you. It's kind of fun.
"They've lost four (in a row) but we can't think too much about their losing streak. They're a really good team and they'll be playing at home. We've got to go in, knowing they're going to play really well and knowing we need to play our best."
The Cougars (9-4, 5-3) haven't played well of late as they saw their undefeated season and No. 1 ranking head south since Feb. 10. First, it was UC Irvine winning in five at Smith, followed by an 0-for-the-road swing when swept by Cal Baptist (0-3) and current MPSF leader Pepperdine twice (2-3 and 0-3).
The loss to the Lancers, the top-ranked NAIA team, has an asterisk in the eyes of BYU interim co-coach Shawn Patchell. The Cougars' flight out of Salt Lake City was delayed by five hours with the team going straight from LAX to Riverside for the match.
Patchell started his reserves and "it is unfortunate that they didn't get an adequate warm-up and prep," he said. "The guys on the bench deserved to start. They have been playing well all season in practice.
"Our starters have been banged up a bit and they needed the rest. Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way we planned."
It took just 90 minutes for the three-time defending NAIA champions to win 30-25, 30-23, 31-29, a victory Cal Baptist likened to Chaminade upsetting then-No. 1 Virginia in 1982. Patchell put in several of his starters midway through Game 2, including freshman setter Yamil Perez and sophomore kill leader Yosleyder Cala, but it wasn't enough as the Lancers held off game point in Game 3 (29-28) and closed it out on a 3-0 run.
Three nights later in Malibu, BYU out-blocked Pepperdine 11-6 but had problems running its impressive middle attack as the Waves broke a 13-13 tie in Game 5 with a 2-0 run that finished the 2 hour, 25 minute marathon. Last Saturday afternoon's match lasted just 89 minutes as the Cougars hit just .189 and had one ace with 12 service errors.
"I give credit to Pepperdine for their defensive style of play," Patchell said. "Lately, we've been making a lot of hitting errors, which we haven't done all season."
The lesson learned?
"We're not the No. 1 team so we have a lot of room for improvement," Patchell said.
At last month's Outrigger Hotels Invitational, the Cougars already looked in postseason form, winning the title via sweeps of Penn State and Loyola-Chicago. BYU hit .427 with nine aces against the Nittany Lions and hit .394 with 13 blocks against the Ramblers.
Although the Warriors didn't face the Cougars in the tournament, they saw plenty from the sidelines.
"In my mind, they're the best team in the conference," UH senior libero Eric Kalima said. "It's going to be tough, with the cold weather, the balls sailing a lot more, and they have a crowd that can get on you."
The teams alternate hosting the two-match series annually. Hawaii was swept twice in Provo in 2005 and the teams alternated sweeping each other in 2003.
The Warriors are feeling better about themselves after ending their seven-match losing streak with a win over USC last Friday. But it doesn't change the reality of being tied with the Trojans for ninth place in the MPSF at 3-7.
Still, Patchell has concerns.
"When Hawaii passes well, they run the fastest offense in the MPSF and can beat anyone," he said. "Obviously, (Lauri) Hakala returning makes them better."
Hakala, missing the last three matches with a strained abdominal muscle, has been able to participate fully in practices this week. The All-American and co-captain had been limited to passing drills and serving flat-footed due to the injury.
While passing has been a concern of the Warriors all season, so has unforced hitting errors. Hawaii is 10th in the 12-team conference in hitting at .249.
"No. 1, in order to win, you can't beat yourselves," Warriors coach Mike Wilton said. "We've got to make them play.
"And we've got to play really sound volleyball, cut down on unforced errors. The main thing is serving in. We're not firing a lot of rockets over the net but we are getting better at serving in. We are a good defensive team. We need to give ourselves a chance to play defense."
Hawaii continues to lead the MPSF in blocks (3.66 bpg) and is second in digs (9.58 dpg). Senior middle Dio Dante is second in blocks (1.83 bpg) and freshman middle Matt Rawson is tied for sixth (1.35 bpg).
Setters bouncing back: Both teams had their starting setters not at full strength early in the week. Warriors senior Brian Beckwith had an allergic reaction to a medication and missed practices Monday and Tuesday. Cougars freshman Yamil Perez rolled his ankle midway through last Thursday's loss to Pepperdine. Both are expected to play.