Warriors limp into BYU series
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Much is riding on the two men's volleyball matches at the Stan Sheriff Center this week.
No. 13 Hawaii needs to win in order to keep alive any hope for a playoff spot.
No. 3 BYU (19-4, 14-4) at No. 13 Hawaii (10-13, 7-11), 7 p.m. tomorrow and Friday; TV: KFVE, Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
No. 3 Brigham Young has a chance to return to the top of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings and all the advantages that come with the conference crown. The league champion earns a first-round bye in the playoffs and hosts the tournament's semifinals and final.
The Warriors (10-13, 7-11) appear to have the tougher task. They host the Cougars (19-4, 14-4) for two then finish the regular season with two at No. 5 Pepperdine (12-8, 11-8).
And Hawaii will have to do it without two players who started most of the season. Both junior hitter Jim Clar and sophomore middle Matt Rawson are done for the year, both sidelined with torn labrums in their hitting shoulders.
"We're not going in full strength but we're going in hungry," Warriors junior setter Sean Carney said. "I don't think it's anything that's going to throw us off. It's been a season of unforeseen circumstances and a season of adapting."
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A lot of things have to go right for the 13th-ranked Hawaii men's volleyball team to make the conference playoffs this season.
Some of them are out of the Warriors' control, such as how the teams immediately ahead of them in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings fare the final two weeks of conference play.
Last night's MPSF result was not a good thing for the Warriors. UC Irvine snapped Cal State Northridge's 14-match win streak by downing the Matadors in four. The Anteaters moved into a tie with USC at 9-10, 1 1/2 -games ahead of UH (7-11) for the last two playoff spots.
CSUN's loss was very good news for No. 3 Brigham Young. The Cougars are tied for second with Long Beach State at 14-4, a half-game behind the Matadors (15-4).
Two BYU victories this week would more than put them back in contention for the MPSF title. The Cougars own the tiebreaker with CSUN, but lose the tiebreaker with Long Beach State; the 49ers and Matadors meet on the final night of the regular season.
The MPSF champion has a quarterfinal bye and hosts the semifinals and final. The second- through fourth-place teams host quarterfinals.
"We have to win in order to keep our chances for hosting alive," BYU coach Shawn Patchell said. "It is very important for us to be a one or two seed."
The Cougars, 11-1 at home this season, come into the Stan Sheriff Center on a two-match winning streak after beating UC Santa Barbara twice last week in Provo. BYU outlasted the Gauchos in five last Friday behind the eighth double-double of the season by senior hitter Ivan Perez (27 kills, 12 digs) then won in straight sets, with redshirt freshman hitter Jeff Robinson putting down 18 kills in his first start.
Patchell said his team passed better and made some defensive stops late that keyed the five-set win. It's what he wants the Cougars to repeat against the Warriors, especially passing on the serve receive.
For Hawaii, the goal remains the same: sideout more efficiently. The Warriors have had a tendency to give up runs of points while letting close games get away.
"It's clearly our biggest issue," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "We lead the MPSF in digs and blocks, so that shows you how important those are.
"I keep saying that the No. 1 indicator of a successful team is the ability to sideout. And we're last in the conference in that category."
Any improvement Hawaii makes will have to be done without two players who have started much of the season. Junior hitter Jim Clar, the team's kill leader, and sophomore middle Matt Rawson, one of the top middles in the MPSF, are out for the year with torn labrums in their hitting shoulders.
Neither played in last week's losses at Cal State Northridge.
"It's something that we knew was coming," junior setter Sean Carney said. "Without them, our young lineup is even younger. It's definitely hard to scout us. I'm playing libero this week. See if BYU can figure that out.
"But seriously, we're not giving up. I'm looking forward to having our last four matches be our best four matches. Hopefully, we can get into the playoffs. This will be a test of our character."
This week is also the final home appearance for Hawaii's lone senior Jake Schkud, the utility player who's been used at middle, opposite and left-side hitter during his career. The co-captain remains confident the team can be successful against the Cougars.
"If we serve tough and pass well, we'll do fine," he said. "We've had our spurts where we all did well at the same time, that we all played well together and were on the same page.
"There's still a chance we can make the playoffs. But we have to take it one step at a time."