RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jake Schkud, center, wants to see UH's defense continue to play strong. The Warriors play USC tomorrow and Saturday.
Warriors and Trojans fight for playoff berth
It's not so much a matter of go hard or go home.
For the Hawaii men's volleyball team, it's more a matter of win or stay home.
With eight conference matches remaining, the 14th-ranked Warriors sit precariously in eighth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings ... only a half-game ahead of this week's opponent, USC. Two road wins over the Trojans would go a long way toward helping Hawaii secure a playoff berth; only the top eight teams will advance to the MPSF tournament.
No. 14 Hawaii (9-10, 6-8 MPSF) at No. 12 USC (9-12, 6-9); tomorrow and Saturday, 4 p.m. Hawaii time; Radio: KKEA 1420-AM; TV: none
"Winning both would be huge for our team, but we have to take it one game at a time," Warriors senior Jake Schkud said. "Our defense was very good (in Saturday's sweep of UC Irvine). Hopefully that can be duplicated against SC."
Hawaii leads the MPSF in digs as well as blocks. The key for the Warriors will be to get their offense at the same level; UH is last in the league in kill average.
"We dig balls and block balls -- that's how we win. But our plague has been our offense," said Warriors sophomore libero Ric Cervantes, second in the MPSF and third nationally in digs. "The good thing is, we're definitely getting better.
"The trip is so critical. Win or go home is how I'm looking at it, and I hope everyone on our team is looking at it that way. It's going to be a tough environment and (USC) is in the same situation as we are."
No. 14 Hawaii (9-10, 6-8 MPSF) and No. 12 USC (9-12, 6-9) have a similarly tough road to the playoffs. The Warriors finish with two matches at co-No. 1 Cal State Northridge next week, two at home against former No. 1 BYU and then on the road for two at No. 5 Pepperdine. The Trojans close with home matches next week against Pacific and Stanford, a match at Pepperdine and two at BYU.
"For either team, winning both this week would be huge," USC coach Bill Ferguson said. "Our teams mirror each other. We should get a good match between the middles and two feisty setters.
"For us, we need to control the passing a little better, because when we're in system we can go a lot of places."
Ferguson, a longtime club coach in Southern California, is very familiar with several of the Warrior players. He watched Schkud come up through the club system and at nearby Loyola High, and sophomore middle Matt Rawson was an assistant for Ferguson last summer during club season.
The Trojans roster also features three island prep products, including reserve freshman setter Riley McKibbin (Punahou '07). Freshman hitter Tri Bourne (AOP '07) was playing well early in the season, but a broken hand set him back a bit. Sophomore libero Troy Tokuhama (Iolani '06) has seen limited action.
The matches will be played in USC's new on-campus arena, the 10,258-seat Galen Center. Ferguson calls it the best volleyball arena in the country, although the Trojans are only averaging 453 a match.
"I'm looking forward to playing there," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "They certainly lose the homecourt advantage that (1,000-seat) North Gym was.
"These are critical matches for both teams. And if one team wins both, that's a big swing (in the standings)."
Hawaii, 2-4 on the road, is coming off last week's split against UC Irvine. The Warriors earned just their second sweep of the season when they downed the Anteaters in straight sets.
USC, 3-5 at home, has dropped its last four. The highlight has been taking the two-match series from crosstown rival UCLA for the first time since 1991.