Warriors take aim at national champs
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Last week's matches against Loyola-Chicago were merely a warmup for the target practice Sunday. That's when the Hawaii men's volleyball players took shots at each other during paintball games.
No. 8 UC Irvine (10-11, 6-8 MPSF) at No. 14 Hawaii (8-9, 5-7) tomorrow and Saturday, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center; TV: KFVE, Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA-1420-AM
Next in their collective sight is No. 8 UC Irvine. The defending national champion Anteaters come in for matches Friday and Saturday, matches crucial to the playoff hopes of both teams.
The parity in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation has created a very competitive middle ground, where two games separate fourth-place UCLA from ninth-place Hawaii.
The top-eight teams advance to the MPSF tournament and "more so than in previous years, you have to play well to win," Warrior associate head coach Tino Reyes said. "You don't see a team playing badly and still winning."
No. 14 Hawaii (8-9, 5-7) has 10 league matches left, including six on the road. The Warriors need to start picking up some ground -- and some wins -- if they want to make the playoffs for a 15th straight year.
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Last year the mantra was, "Win 10, Get In."
Hawaii knew that by winning its last 10, it would get into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation volleyball playoffs. The Warriors did the math and the winning, advancing to the first round where they fell to eventual national champion UC Irvine.
This season, Hawaii has 10 MPSF matches remaining, but also a tougher closing schedule. And, given the unpredictability of the league, this time there is no magic number to guarantee the Warriors a playoff spot.
Currently two games separate the fourth-place team (UCLA) and the ninth-place team (Hawaii), with UC Santa Barbara, the 10th-place team, a game behind the Warriors.
UCI is tied for seventh "and this is a big weekend for both teams," Anteaters coach John Speraw said.
The Anteaters and Warriors play at the Stan Sheriff Center tomorrow and Saturday.
"Hawaii is much like us ... trying to replace some great players from last year and get hot at the right time. We're going to be a good team at the end of this season or the beginning of the next one. I'm just hoping for the former."
The Anteaters have plenty of incentive. UCI is hosting the NCAA championship in May. The MPSF likely will have two teams in the final four again, "but it's going to be tough to get there, really tough to get there," Warriors associate head coach Tino Reyes said.
"It's so hard to predict this year. Anyone can win. You have to play good every night, more so this year than ever," he added. "I haven't seen a team that plays badly and still wins. Even (top-ranked) BYU. They played badly against Stanford and got swept.
"I don't know much about Irvine other than they're young like us and both teams need some wins."
Hawaii (8-9, 5-7) is coming off two victories over then-No. 12 Loyola-Chicago, including the Warriors' first sweep of the season when they downed the Ramblers in three last Wednesday.
The Anteaters (10-11, 6-8) have dropped their last two, both in five and both at home, against Ohio State and UCLA. Speraw said his team has been able to rebound from tough weeks this season; the Anteaters snapped a three-match losing streak that included a home loss to UC San Diego with a road win at Pepperdine.
"Our theme this year has always been about a commitment to improve," Speraw said. "We knew going into this season we'd have some rough weeks. We have too much inexperience not to.
"We've always talked to our guys about continuing to improve in the hopes of being at our best when it mattered most at the end. And, I do believe we've been able to do that. We are a much better team than we were in January."
And so is Hawaii, although the Warriors took a step back when three starters missed practice earlier in the week with illnesses. Senior opposite Jake Schkud, junior setter Sean Carney and sophomore middle Matt Rawson were all back yesterday.
Hawaii connections: The Anteaters have two Hawaii connections on the roster: assistant Mark Presho, who played for the Warriors (1990-93) and junior libero Brent Asuka (Iolani '05), the national newcomer of the year in 2006. ... Asuka ranks third in the MPSF in digs (2.85 dpg), fifth nationally; the Warriors' Ric Cervantes is second in the MPSF (3.19 dpg), third nationally. ... UH middle Steven Grgas ranks third in the MPSF and nationally in blocks (1.59 bpg).