RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
UH wants .500 and more
.500 record within sight for UH this weekend
Their inspiration has come from an unlikely source: UCLA. But the Bruins' run to the 2006 NCAA title has helped the Hawaii men's volleyball team keep the faith the past few weeks.
"If UCLA can do it, why not us?" It was more of a statement than a question from Warrior senior setter Brian Beckwith.
Why not, indeed. Last year, the sub-.500 Bruins kept winning. First, it was eight straight to get into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, then four in the MPSF tourney to earn the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament and then two more for UCLA's 19th championship.
The Bruins needed 14 in a row to do it. The Warriors, riding an eight-match winning streak, would need 15 -- 16 if they have to compete in the play-in match.
But what Hawaii (11-13, 9-11 MPSF) wants right now is to hit .500. The Warriors can do that with wins over Stanford (3-23, 2-18) tomorrow and Saturday to close out the regular season.
Possibility has taken on probability the past four weeks. Possibility has continued to be the improbable winner.
Given the season the Hawaii men's volleyball team had been having through mid-March -- losing 12 straight, 0-6 on the road -- the possibility of the Warriors winning out and reaching .500 was there ... just as was the probability they wouldn't.
Yet ... Hawaii is two victories away from having a win streak that matches its ranking: 10. Over the next two nights, the Warriors (11-13, 9-11 MPSF) can accomplish even more, the least of which is silencing their doubters.
Stanford (3-23, 2-18) at No. 10 Hawaii (11-13, 9-11)
» Tomorrow and Saturday, 7 p.m.
» Stan Sheriff Center
» TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
» Radio: 1420-AM
» Series: UH leads 32-24
» Tickets: $3-$14
» Promotion: Two-for-one tickets for UH Alumni Association members
With two wins over Stanford (3-23, 2-18), Hawaii can reach .500 for the first time since opening the season 2-2 as well as secure a playoff berth. Just where the Warriors -- alone in seventh after USC's loss last night to UC Santa Barbara -- finish in the standings hinges on how these final four nights of league action play out.
Probably seventh (hosting Wednesday's play-in match), possibly sixth (traveling to the third seed for a quarterfinal Saturday), outside chance of eighth (traveling to the seventh seed for Wednesday's match). Hawaii has the tiebreakers with the other teams involved -- Cal State Northridge (10-10), currently sixth; USC (9-12) in eighth; and Pacific (8-12) in ninth.
The only way the Warriors miss the playoffs entirely is if they wind up ninth. For that to happen, they would have to lose both matches to the Cardinal to finish 9-13 and Pacific would have to beat No. 2 BYU and USC would also have to beat CSU Northridge.
"The only scenario I like is the one where we keep winning, keep on winning this week and get into the playoffs," Hawaii senior setter Brian Beckwith said. "I'm happy that we're back home to play after two weeks on the road and I'm looking forward to playing in our arena."
Depending on the playoff situation, Saturday may be the final home match for the four Warrior seniors. Regardless, Beckwith, middle Dio Dante, opposite Lauri Hakala and hitter Eric Kalima will be honored after the match.
"I'm excited, have a lot of family members in town," Beckwith said. "Senior night adds some pressure, but we're just going to approach it like any other match and keep the ceremony separate.
"Of course Stanford concerns us. It's teams that have nothing to lose that are the scariest. And they've got a local boy, Kawika (Shoji), and they're going to give it everything they've got."
Shoji (Iolani '06) moved from setter to left-side hitter a few weeks ago, a position he's never played. He had 19 kills Friday in the 3-1 loss to No. 1 Pepperdine and 17 kills in the 3-1 loss to USC on Saturday.
Shoji, son of Rainbow Wahine coach Dave, leads the Cardinal in assists, aces and digs and is fourth in kills.
"I'm looking forward to coming home," Shoji said. "I've played in the arena a couple of times and kind of grew up there, going to my dad's practice. I've told my team it's the best place in the country to play volleyball, how big the crowds get and how knowledgeable they are, applauding for good plays by both teams.
"I'm excited to share that with my team and be playing in front of a lot of family and friends. Hopefully, we'll play well, have two good matches in front of a good crowd."
Although the Cardinal have lost their last four, coach John Kosty remains very optimistic.
"I'm feeling great for us being 3-23 because we're not playing like that," Kosty said. "We thought we'd get one last week, but it didn't work out.
"Hakala, of course, concerns us. He's a tremendous volleyball player. And it seems like their blocking defense is doing really well.
"We want to play well, maybe get a split or even sweep Hawaii, and have that push us forward into the offseason on a positive note, because the future of Stanford volleyball is bright and it keeps getting brighter."
Joining the Cardinal next season will be two of Shoji's U.S. Junior National Team teammates -- Punahou's Spencer McLachlin and Kamehameha's Jordan Inafuku.
Beckwith, Dante get invites
Beckwith and Dante have been invited to the tryouts for the World University Games, Aug. 8-18, in Thailand. Beckwith said he has accepted the invitation and Dante said he hasn't yet but hopes to be able to participate.
Tentative ticket plan
Should Hawaii finish seventh and host Wednesday's play-in match, tickets will go on sale starting Sunday. Prices range from $5 to $14.
Tickets will be available online at HawaiiAthletics.com or at the Stan Sheriff Center box office (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays). For more information, call 956-4482.