Hakala not finished
The senior from Finland hopes his UH career has seven more wins in it
There's a mini-United Nations playing in Lauri Hakala's head. The Finnish national speaks eight languages, matching the number on his Hawaii volleyball uniform.
But what language does the senior opposite dream in?
It's what brought Hakala to Hawaii, where he earned All-America honors last season.
It's what will take him wherever he wants to go after graduating in December, either indoors or on the beach.
Warriors have a shot to avoid play-in
Hawaii's playoff scenario became a little more intriguing last night with Cal State Northridge's loss to Pepperdine. Should the Warriors defeat Stanford twice this weekend, they would become the sixth seed in the MPSF volleyball tournament and travel to No. 3 -- either BYU or UC Irvine -- for an April 21 quarterfinal.
Hawaii can also earn the sixth seed by splitting with Stanford and CSUN losing at USC tomorrow. All three teams would be at 10-12 and the Warriors have the tiebreaker with both the Matadors and Trojans.
Should Hawaii finish seventh, the Warriors host the eighth seed for Wednesday's play-in match.
CSUN's loss also meant UCLA clinched the fifth seed and will be at fourth-seeded UC Santa Barbara on April 21.
The 24-year-old was reminded of just how much the sport was a part of his soul when he missed three matches due to injury earlier this season and wasn't at full strength in a couple of others.
"I've been healthy the last month and half, and I realize how much I truly love playing volleyball," Hakala said. "As much as I want a good education, I know I really want to play volleyball as long as possible."
Hakala has a world of options. There are thoughts of playing in Canada, where he might have two more years of eligibility.
If the Finnish beach volleyball program has developed to his liking, Hakala could return home as a known quantity. He is a five-time junior beach champion.
Hakala is also confident that there's an indoor volleyball career awaiting pursuit in Europe should he choose that.
The only problem for the multi-linguist is that he is also a multi-tasker. Hakala would like to be completing his master's degree in international relations while playing volleyball.
"I'm not sure how I'm going to pull it all together," he said. "Next fall, practicing on the beach and playing on my own for fun will help my decision."
There is one certainty. The co-captain wants to continue having fun with the Warriors as long as possible.
"What I'd like to see is us going on a 15-game win streak," Hakala said of running the table and winning the NCAA title. "This team is so young and we just came together. We're really hungry, have nothing to lose.
"We've already proved a lot of people wrong. The big thing is to enter the playoffs, have fun and see how far it takes us. Our shot at winning is as good as any else's."
Of all the Warriors, Hakala has been the main focus of opponents' game plans. Slow him, a number of coaches have said, and you will slow Hawaii.
Easier said than done, especially after Hakala moved back to the right side midway through the season. He started out on the left, a position he said may have added to his abdominal strain because of a change in his swing and approach.
Back at opposite, Hakala has become the go-to player Hawaii was lacking early. He is a smart hitter with a variety of shots and a killer serve; he leads the team in both kills (305) and aces (21).
"This whole year, we've been looking for that one guy who will put the ball away for us, when we need the big point, the big swing, during the long rally when we need that ball to go down," Warrior setter Brian Beckwith said. "Lauri's been the guy, the one coming up with the big swings the past couple of weeks."
"Right side is a tough position and Lauri is really good at it," said Warrior sophomore Jim Clar, who started the season at opposite. "You need to be consistent, and that's difficult. He knows he has to carry the load, but he gets the job done.
"He has the leadership and the skills. He just wants the best for the team."
Hakala hopes that his seriousness on the court has not been lost in translation.
"I don't want people to think I take the games and practices way too serious," he said. "It's really important to have fun when you play volleyball and I have the most fun when I take it seriously and give my best.
"If there's anything I could leave the program, it would be that there's time to have fun outside the court, but when you're on the court you have to have the mentality that is the most important thing you are doing at the moment. Nothing else matters except for winning. You give your best at practice every day."
Given how the final week of the season is playing out, tomorrow may be the last home match for Hakala and the other three seniors: Beckwith, Dio Dante and Erik Kalima. Several scenarios make it possible for the Warriors to finish sixth and be on the road at either BYU or UC Irvine for a quarterfinal next Saturday.
"I think (tomorrow) will be very emotional," he said. "I love playing in the arena. It is probably the greatest place on earth to play volleyball.
"I'm still surprised about the fans, being recognized off the court. The morning we left for the UC San Diego games, the guy at the gas station wished me luck. The baggage guy and the security guys at the airport all wished me luck. It is amazing for a player at this level to be treated this way."
Hakala said he had no regrets about his decision to come to Hawaii. Nor about recommending it to his younger brother, Juhani, a libero for the Finnish youth national team.
"I truly cannot imagine what my perception of the world, of life, of volleyball would be had I not come here," he said. "It's been just wonderful.
"Do my friends back home envy me? For sure. If they don't, they should."