Big road trip begins at Pacific
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The Hawaii men's volleyball team knows that the hopes of making the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs ride heavily on how the 14th-ranked Warriors fare on their longest road trip of the season.
No. 14 Hawaii (4-7, 3-5) at Pacific (1-12, 1-9); Tomorrow: 6 p.m. Hawaii time; TV: None; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
They'll play four matches in seven days on the Northern California swing to Pacific (tomorrow and Monday) and Stanford (Wednesday and Thursday).
Hawaii (4-7, 3-5 MPSF) takes its first shot at making a move up in the league standings against Pacific (1-12, 1-9). The Tigers may have only one victory, but the Warriors are not taking them lightly.
"This road trip is going to be the gauge for how well we're going to do the rest of the season," UH sophomore libero Ric Cervantes said. "The league is still up for grabs and we're still in contention (for the playoffs).
"It's going to be a really long trip. We have to stay focused and take it game by game."
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Consider it "February Madness."
No. 14 Hawaii has four matches in seven days to close out this month.
All on the road.
And, given the crazy parity in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball, all will be tough. That includes Pacific (1-12, 1-9) tomorrow and Monday.
The Tigers have just one win, but it was a sweep at Stanford on Jan. 31. Last week, UOP took the Cardinal to five before falling, extending its losing streak to four.
"UOP has some good players, and as it has been shown, you can have a pretty good team and not win very much in our league," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "We're concerned about UOP and we're concerned about making the playoffs.
"The goal is to keep improving and get into the playoffs."
Hawaii (4-7, 3-5) won 10 straight last season to do just that. The Warriors need to get started now if they hope to move out of 10th in the MPSF and finish in the top eight.
The Warriors left for Stockton, Calif., yesterday still shaking their heads over last week's split with UCLA. Hawaii won in five Thursday, then got swept Friday.
"We put a lot of work into that win Thursday," sophomore middle blocker Steven Grgas said. "If we had done that the second night, it would have been the same result."
"I think it shows that if we stay focused, don't commit dumb mental errors, we can beat a good team," added sophomore libero Ric Cervantes. "We keep giving games away, like we did the second night. We've got to close out games and finish matches.
"But I'm happy that we got the split. It gave us a lot of confidence for our playoff run. This road trip is going to be the gauge for how well we're going to do the rest of the season."
It's only the second trip of the season. The Warriors came back from the last one 0-2, losing to UC Santa Barbara in five and a long four.
Of the seven starters, only three have made this trip before: senior hitter Jake Schkud, junior hitter Jim Clar and junior setter Sean Carney. Carney saw the most playing time on the road trip to UOP and Stanford in 2006, but was used primarily as a serving specialist.
"It's going to be really interesting, being on the road this long," Grgas said. "The good thing is our guys all like to travel."
"We just need to take it one game at a time," Carney said, "and not worry about our record or theirs."
Like Hawaii, UOP has been in most matches, but has struggled to close. Leading the Tigers are senior hitter Pekka Seppanen (3.74 kpg, 18 aces), junior hitter Jeff Hendershot (2.60 kpg) and sophomore transfer Jason Borchin (2.59 kpg).
Hawaii leads the series 30-1, with the one loss coming at UOP in 1997. The Warriors have won 19 straight since.