RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Seniors aim to travel again
On a roll, Warriors go for No. 7
Go. Fight. Win.
It's not a cheer. Certainly not one accompanied by pompoms.
It sums up the agenda for the Hawaii men's volleyball team this week, one the Warriors want to turn into three other words: Went. Fought. Won.
Who: No. 13 Hawaii (9-13, 7-11) at No. 9 Long Beach State (11-13, 6-12)
When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 4 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: ESPN 1420-AM
Series: Hawaii leads 31-29
No. 13 Hawaii (9-13, 7-11 MPSF) puts its six-match winning streak and playoff hopes on the line tomorrow and Saturday at No. 9 Long Beach State (11-13, 6-12). The 49ers, a game behind the Warriors in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, desperately need to win to keep their own playoff dreams alive.
"Yep, two teams who have gone through eerily similar rebuilding processes this season," said Warriors coach Mike Wilton. "They're a game behind us, so these matches are important for both teams."
It may be more critical for The Beach, which has -- on paper -- the tougher schedule next week. The 49ers close the regular season on the road at No. 6 UCLA and at No. 2 UC Irvine, while Hawaii finishes out at home with Stanford, tied for last with UC San Diego.
"Even with our different lineups, we've come close to beating the top teams," said Warrior opposite Lauri Hakala, one of Hawaii's four seniors making their last regular-season road trip. "We needed to get that feeling that winning brings."
This has not been the season Hawaii's four seniors anticipated. Not after coming off a year in which the Warriors finished second in the standings, heading into the playoffs with a 19-match winning streak.
Brian Beckwith, Dio Dante, Lauri Hakala and Eric Kalima were a year older and knew they were a year better. They just needed for the Ws to catch up with their belief that they would make the playoffs.
They left yesterday, determined that this would not be the last road trip of their collegiate volleyball careers. In Long Beach State, they'll face a team that is equally disappointed in the reversal of fortune from last year, and one whose playoff situation may be even more dire.
Hawaii, tied for eighth, is a game ahead of The Beach with four regular-season matches left. The Warriors appear to have the easier road to a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament berth, hosting Stanford, tied for last, twice next week, while the 49ers finish out at No. 6 UCLA and No. 2 UC Irvine.
But all that matters to both right now is what happens tomorrow and Saturday. And the Warriors' plan -- as Hakala yelled when running into the practice gym this week -- is to "dominate."
"We know that Long Beach is a team that can't be overlooked," Hakala said. "I think they're very dangerous. They're the only team to beat (top-ranked) Pepperdine, and they nearly did again a couple of weeks ago. But they also lost to UC San Diego.
"The seniors haven't really talked to the team other than to say keep doing what we're doing. We've had some of the best practices of the year during the past few weeks, and when you practice good, you play good."
Hawaii has played well enough the past three weeks to win six straight, all in sweeps. The keys have been a settled lineup, better passing and a block that continues to lead the MPSF.
"Having a steady lineup has made us more comfortable with each other," Beckwith, the starting setter, said. "It's made the offense a lot easier to run because I know who can hit what in certain situations. It's helped us settle down.
"We're feeling good right now, have that attitude of 'nothing to lose.' We're just going to go for it 100 percent this weekend. We're going to prove some people wrong."
And so is Long Beach State. A year removed from the MPSF tournament title match -- where they lost the automatic NCAA berth to UCLA -- the 49ers are trying to salvage this season.
Ending a four-match skid would be a start. Much like Hawaii, The Beach has played well in spurts but has given up points in bunches, as happened last week at BYU. In Game 3 Friday, the 49ers closed to 22-21; minutes later it was 29-21.
Tomorrow, more than a little pride is at stake. The 49ers are 6-6 at home this season, one loss away from matching the total number of losses at The Pyramid in the three previous years combined (40-7 from 2004 to '06).
Two losses to the Warriors would pretty much take the 49ers out of the playoff picture. Hawaii could lose both and still hang onto the final playoff spot.
But why take chances?
"We need to serve and pass well and everything will take care of itself," Kalima said. "We want to keep it rolling. We know our goals. Make the playoffs, go to the final four."
That would be the one final road trip the four Hawaii seniors would like to make.