Loaded MPSF awaits Warriors
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It's a four-letter word that gives men's volleyball coaches and players alike pause to both contemplate and commiserate.
No. 6 Long Beach State (2-0) at No. 12 Hawaii (1-2)
» Tomorrow and Friday, 7 p.m.
» Stan Sheriff Center
» TV: KFVE Ch. 5
» Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
It spells the toughest competition and no room for mistakes. Every night out.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season opens tonight with all but two of the conference's members in the Top 15. And although Pacific and UC San Diego aren't ranked, it means nothing because there is no league where the adage "on any given night" holds truer.
"I've heard some comments that this season there will be quite a few surprises," said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe, whose sixth-ranked team faces No. 12 Hawaii tomorrow and Friday nights at the Stan Sheriff Center. "If you're surprised by some of the wins this year, then you really don't have a grasp of how good the league is.
"It's going to be one of those years where you can't be blinded by looking ahead to the 'big rivalry' games. All the teams are so good with the talent deeper and deeper."
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It may be early, but already there is a sense of urgency. Given the overall strength of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball teams, every match will be crucial and being .500 in this season of parity just might be good enough to make the playoffs.
"It's a tough league, what else can you say," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "Our mission in life is to try to get better each day and get better at playing better for longer stretches of time.
"We have a lot of work to do in order to become a nice team. It's going to be a challenge every night. It's the MPSF. Everybody's good."
That first step for Hawaii is tomorrow and Friday nights when it hosts No. 6 Long Beach State. The 49ers (2-0), who missed the MPSF playoffs last season after finishing 6-16, placed third at the 44th Elephant Bar Invitational.
"You can never count Long Beach out," Warrior junior hitter Jim Clar said. "We're going into these matches knowing we're playing another good team.
"You can't take anyone lightly."
A look at the MPSF teams, according to preseason coaches poll (last year's records in parenthesis):
A look at the MPSF teams, ranked according to preseason coaches poll (last year's records in parenthesis):
1. Pepperdine (26-3, 21-1 MPSF)
After being ranked No. 1 for most the season, the Waves (0-0) were upset in the MPSF final by UC Irvine then in the NCAA semifinal by IPFW. As Hawaii found out last fall, Pepperdine expects to contend again this year. The Waves are led by three-time All-American senior setter Jonathan Winder. Also back is All-American junior opposite Paul Carroll, a member of the Australian national team, and junior hitter J.D. Schleppenbach.
Hawaii connection: Junior middle Eric Liebert (Punahou '04) was injured most of last year, but should contend for playing time.
2. BYU (23-6, 18-4)
The Cougars lost All-American Yosleyder Cala, but are still loaded, with All-Americans Russell Holmes, a senior middle, and senior hitter Ivan Perez among six starters returning. Also back is the AVCA National Newcomer of '07, sophomore setter Yamil Perez.
Hawaii connections: On the roster are senior opposite Jonathan Charette, who played for Pearl City one season; senior setter Brian Congelliere, an '02 Saint Louis School graduate; and Honolulu-born freshman opposite Joe Kauliakamoa, who grew up in Las Vegas.
3. UCLA (19-11, 13-9 MPSF)
The Bruins (2-1) are still a work in progress but made strides during last week's Outrigger Hotels Invitational, where they defeated Ball State and Hawaii and lost to Penn State.
Named to the all-tournament team were junior middle Jamie Diefenbach and sophomore hitter Garrett Muagututia.
Senior All-American libero Tony Ker should have been selected. He broke both the single-match and tournament records for digs.
Hawaii connection: Junior setter Matt Wade is the son of former Wahine volleyball All-American Rocky Elias Wade.
4. UC Irvine (29-5, 17-5)
The defending champion Anteaters (2-2) were fourth at the Elephant Bar Invitational as they regroup from the loss of four All-Americans. UCI opened the year with a sweep of Cal Baptist, then in tournament play, defeated UCSB before losing to Stanford and Long Beach State. Freshman setter Anthony Spittle was named to the all-tournament team.
Hawaii connection: Anchoring UCI's defense will again be junior libero Brent Asuka (Iolani '05), the MPSF and AVCA Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
5. CSU Northridge (18-15, 11-11)
The Matadors (2-1) finished fifth at the Elephant Bar Invitational, with wins over UCSB and USC and a loss to Stanford. Leading CSUN last weekend were middles Cody Loe, a freshman, and sophomore Kevin McNiff. Anchoring the Matadors will again be junior hitter Eric Vance, one of five starters returning.
Hawaii connection: Hitter Isaac Kneubuhl (Kamehameha '03) is back for his senior year, one of the most versatile athletes on the Matadors roster.
6. USC (12-16, 9-13)
The Trojans (1-2) have their entire starting lineup back, led by senior setter Jimmy Killian and senior hitter Juan Figueroa. USC placed sixth at the Elephant Bar Invitational, defeating UOP and losing to Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge.
Hawaii connections: Freshman setter Riley McKibbin (Punahou '07), freshman hitter Tri Bourne (AOP '07) and sophomore libero Troy Tokuhama (Iolani '06) are among the young and deep Trojans roster.
7. Long Beach State (11-17, 6-16)
The 49ers (2-0) are eager to erase last year's disappointment of not making the league playoff after finishing 10th. Five starters are back, led by senior hitter Paul Lotman. Sophomore middles Dan Alexander and Dean Bittner helped The Beach to third place at the Elephant Bar Invitational, with Bittner being named all-tournament.
Hawaii connections: Sophomore hitter Tommy Pestolesi is the son of former UH volleyball All-Americans Tom Pestolesi and Diane Sebastian Pestolesi. Freshman libero Kory Matsukado was an All-ILH selection at Kamehameha before transferring to San Diego for his senior year.
8. Hawaii (13-14, 11-11)
The Warriors (1-2) finished third in their Outrigger Hotels Invitational. UH also got all-tournament performances from junior hitter Jim Clar and junior setter Sean Carney.
The Warriors are young and inexperienced for the most part, but have talent. Sophomore Matt Rawson and freshman Keali'i Frank solidify the middle, senior Jake Schkud looks to have settled in at opposite and sophomore libero Ric Cervantes played well last week.
9. Stanford (3-25, 2-20)
The Cardinal (2-0) will make plenty of noise this season. Senior hitter Matt Ceran and sophomore setter Kawika Shoji (Iolani '06) both made the all-tournament team as Stanford finished second at the Elephant Bar Invitational.
Stanford is expected to be good for a very long time. Already making an impact is freshman hitter Spencer McLachlin (Punahou '07).
Hawaii connections: Joining Shoji and McLachlin is freshman libero Jordan Inafuku (Kamehameha '07). The trio came up in the USA volleyball ranks together, playing on the youth and junior national teams. Also on the roster is freshman middle Max Halvorson (Punahou '07).
10. UC Santa Barbara (20-12, 14-8)
It's the aloha tour for Gauchos coach Ken Preston, who is retiring after 30 seasons. UCSB (1-2) finished seventh as host of the Elephant Bar Invitational, defeating UOP and losing to UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge. Against the Tigers, the Gauchos had 17 aces.
Hawaii connections: Warrior Jake Schkud began his college career as a Gaucho. Preston spends part of his summer house-sitting in Hawaii and surfing daily.
11. Pacific (14-17, 8-14)
The Tigers (0-2) have three starters back, led by All-American senior hitter Pekka Seppanen. UOP was eighth at the Elephant Bar, losing to Alberta, UCSB and USC.
Hawaii connections: On the Tigers roster are redshirt freshman libero Scot Kane (Kamehameha '06), freshman libero Colin Ishii (Punahou '07), the son of Pearl Country Club pro David Ishii; and freshman hitter Nicolaas Schenk (Hawaii Prep '07). Volunteer assistant coach is Hawaii-born Al Johnson (Chaminade '81).
12. UC San Diego (5-23, 2-20)
The Tritons (1-0) opened with a win over UC Santa Cruz. Sophomore hitter Jason Spangler had 22 kills and 15 digs. The winning record may be over after this week when top-ranked BYU comes into the RIMAC Arena.
Hawaii connections: Sophomore hitter Wil Ehrman (Punahou '06) was second on the team last season in kills. Tom Shoji, brother of Wahine coach Dave, is the associate athletic director for compliance and student services.