JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jake Schkud, right, is one of Hawaii's co-captains, along with setter Sean Carney. The Warriors open their season tomorrow night against Penn State in the Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
Warriors want answers
STORY SUMMARY »
Only six universities have won NCAA championships in men's and women's volleyball.
Outrigger Hotels Invitational
Tomorrow: No. 3 UCLA vs. Ball State, 4 p.m.
No. 4 Penn State at No. 11 Hawaii, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM (Hawaii matches)
TV: KFVE Ch. 5
Of those, only Stanford has doubled up in the same school year ... the Cardinal women at the end of the 1996 fall semester and the Cardinal men at the end of the 1997 spring semester.
Penn State men's coach Mark Pavlik would like nothing more than to make it happen in Happy Valley this season. The Nittany Lions won the women's title last month and "we certainly shared in their excitement," Pavlik said yesterday. "The two programs are pretty close-knit."
FULL STORY »
It's akin to jumping from the frying pan into the imu pit. This week will be a trial by fire for the Hawaii men's volleyball team.
Counting today, the 11th-ranked Warriors have had three days of practice to get ready for three consecutive matches in the 14th Outrigger Hotels Invitational. Hawaii, coming off a 13-14 season, is looking for the same consistency that led to a 10-match winning streak, a streak halted by eventual NCAA champion UC Irvine in five in a conference quarterfinal.
It could take a while to develop. The Warriors have young, versatile talent and coach Mike Wilton has his work cut out for him in trying to find the right combination for success on the court.
Just who will start tomorrow night remains an uncertainty. Junior setter Sean Carney missed most of the preseason with a broken hand, but could get the nod over redshirt freshman Nejc Zemljak, who set all four preseason matches against Pepperdine in November.
"This tournament is a good opportunity for us to get the experience we need, we're such a young team," said Carney, named a co-captain along with senior opposite Jake Schkud. "One of the keys for us to mature as a team is to polish our flaws.
"We're going to see good competition this week. All three are good teams and it's a great way to kick off the season."
The tournament features perennial visitor Penn State, UCLA and Ball State. In last year's two-day event, both Penn State and Hawaii finished 1-1, with the Nittany Lions sweeping the Warriors for the first time in 17 meetings.
Just how good Hawaii can be "is hard to tell after two days of practice," Carney said yesterday. "We've practiced with a lot of different lineups. But we're excited to see where we are and how much we still need to do to get to where we want to be."
Monday, the Warriors welcomed Dusan Matic, a 6-foot-7 middle from Serbia, into their ohana. He's expected to add experienced depth in the middle that includes returning sophomore starter Matt Rawson and freshmen Keali'i Frank and Jarrod Lofy.
"I'm sure Coach (Wilton) will mix up the lineup," said Schkud, who has played three positions in his three seasons. "The idea of the tournament is to find a starting lineup, get some of the younger guys experience and get the rust off."
UH's Outrigger history: 14th appearance, 24-13, five titles.
A look at the competition (last year's record in parentheses):
No. 3 UCLA (19-11)
The Bruins are young and deep, with just one senior (All-America libero Tony Ker) and at least two quality players at all other positions.
As happened last season, UCLA will use two setters, junior Matt Wade (son of former Wahine All-American Rocky Elias Wade) and sophomore Kevin Ker. One change coach Al Scates is making is moving 6-foot-5 sophomore Brett Perrine from middle to opposite.
With 6-7 Weston Dunlap likely to start as a true freshman in the middle, UCLA will have three players from powerhouse Newport Harbor High (Calif.) on the court. Other former Sailors expecting to start are Perrine and junior middle Jamie Diefenbach.
Scates, in his 46th season, is looking for his 20th NCAA championship. The Bruins, who lost on a tiebreaker to the Warriors for the title of this event last year, don't arrive in Hawaii until this afternoon.
"I think we're a good team right now," Scates said. "I hope we can become a great team at some point this season."
UCLA's Outrigger history: 11th appearance, 22-4, five titles.
No. 4 Penn State (22-8)
The Nittany Lions return 10 players from last season's 22-8 Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association champion and NCAA semifinal squad, and also bring in six newcomers, including starting freshman libero Dennis Del Valle from Puerto Rico.
Penn State's fall season included wins over two of last May's final-four teams -- champion UC Irvine in five and runner-up IPFW in three -- and a loss to George Mason in five.
"This tournament is always a good experience for us," said Nittany Lions coach Mark Pavlik, whose team has participated in all 13 previous Outrigger tournaments. "It gives us a good idea of where we are and where we need to be."
Penn State's Outrigger history: 14th appearance, 9-28, no titles.
Ball State (18-12)
The Cardinals return 12 players from a team that went 8-4 in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. Among the five starters back are All-America libero Ian Peckler, who's playing as a graduate student and needs 297 digs to become the program's all-time career dig leader.
Back off a redshirt season is senior hitter Patrick Durbin, an All-MIVA pick in '06. Junior middle Matt McCarthy was ninth nationally in blocks last season.
Coach Joel Walton expects to again use sophomores Jeff Schmitz and Ethan Pheister in a two-setter system. Despite splitting playing time, Schmitz was named the MIVA's co-Freshman of the Year.
Ball State's Outrigger history: third appearance, 1-5, no titles.