Warriors hope to play spoiler
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Just how tight is the playoff situation in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball?
No. 13 Hawaii (10-15, 7-13) at No. 5 Pepperdine (12-9, 11-9);
tomorrow and Saturday, 4 p.m. Hawaii time, Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
Heading into the final two nights of competition, little is decided. The only certainty is that the top three teams -- Long Beach State, BYU and Cal State Northridge all at 16-4 -- will finish as the top three.
But their order of finish won't be determined until Saturday, the last night of the regular season. One of them will have a quarterfinal bye and host the semifinals and final, the other two will host a quarterfinal.
The situation for teams placing fourth through eighth is equally convoluted. Pepperdine and UCLA are tied for fourth at 11-9, but there is only a game separating the Waves and Bruins from three teams at 10-10: Stanford, UC Irvine and USC. And any two of the five could end up in the dreaded 7 vs. 8 play-in match, where the loser goes home and the winner plays at the No. 2 seed -- whoever that may be -- in a quarterfinal.
Complicated? Sure, but not for No. 13 Hawaii. Mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Warriors' goal is clear: finish the season on a winning note at Pepperdine tomorrow and Saturday.
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There was a volleyball stuck in the Gym I rafters earlier this week.
Several Hawaii players took a shot at dislodging it, using another volleyball. Coach Mike Wilton launched a few as well, with no success.
The exercise in futility was an apt metaphor for the Warriors' season. With two matches remaining, Hawaii sits at No. 9 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, looking up at the other eight playoff-bound teams.
So close and yet just out of reach.
For the first time since 1993 -- Wilton's first season at UH -- Hawaii will not advance to the postseason. The Warriors, however, will have a say in where Pepperdine ends up in the MPSF playoff mix.
The Waves and UCLA are currently tied for the fourth and final host berth for the league tournament. Pepperdine likely needs to win both since UCLA owns the tiebreaker between the teams.
And Hawaii? The Warriors would like to end their four-match skid and finish the year on an upswing.
"We have two more matches and, even though we're out of the playoffs, it doesn't mean we're giving up," UH junior setter Sean Carney said. "We want to go up and come back with two wins even if it doesn't mean we'll make the playoffs.
"A win is a win and those have been tough to come by this season for us. The ones we've had have all been good."
But the ones that got away -- Hawaii lost three very winnable five-gamers -- haunt the Warriors. Those losses kept them from having something besides pride to play for this week.
"The plan now is to go out and have fun, have fun playing volleyball," sophomore libero Ric Cervantes said. "The pressure's not on us. The pressure is all on Pepperdine.
"We'll see if we can't take them out of being one of the top four seeds."
Pepperdine definitely isn't taking Hawaii lightly, not after getting a wake-up call last week at home. The Waves were upset by USC, falling to the Trojans in five after being up 2-0.
"I have a lot of respect for Mike's teams," Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy said. "I know this: Every time we've played UH, they've played hard. And they'll play hard this week."
Hawaii continues to lead the MPSF in blocks and digs, behind conference leaders Steven Grgas (1.55 bpg) and Cervantes (3.41 dpg). The Warriors will be tested by the Waves' offense, led by junior opposite Paul Carroll and his league-best averages in kills (6.57 kpg) and points (7.52 ppg).
Quarterbacking Pepperdine for a fourth straight year is setter Jonathan Winder, a three-time All-American and the national and MPSF player of the year last season. With 22 aces, he is one of three Waves with more than 20; Carroll has 25 and J.D. Schleppenbach 24.
Junior middle Eric Liebert (Punahou '04), alternating as a starter with freshman Taylor James, is second on the team in block average (1.26 bpg).
Hawaii dresses just 11 players for the matches at Firestone Fieldhouse. Not traveling was junior hitter Jim Clar, out with a torn labrum in his hitting shoulder; sophomore middle Matt Rawson made the flight and will remain in California to evaluate his season-ending injury (also a torn labrum).
It's the final road trip for Hawaii's lone senior, hitter Jake Schkud.
"I think that's what hurts the most," Carney said. "We're going to be a really solid team next year. This year, we couldn't get it done for Jake."
It will also be the last road trip for first-year hitter Nemanja "Nemo" Komar ... as a player. Unable to secure financial aid as a foreign student, Komar will take over for Doug Hussey as UH team manager next season. His stipend for managing will be enough to help him remain in school.