JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jake Schkud, the lone senior of the team, slammed the ball past Loyola's Joe Guntli in a match earlier this year.
Warriors hope for better things in the near future
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Older, wiser, healthier and better.
Those are next season's expectations for the Hawaii men's volleyball team. Out of the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and losing just one senior, the Warriors feel there is only one way to go ... up.
"It's been a tough year for us, but I think we did grow a lot," UH junior co-captain Sean Carney said. "We were underdogs from the beginning of the season, but we never gave up."
The injury-plagued Warriors (11-16, 8-14) finished the season on a positive note, upsetting No. 5 Pepperdine in five on April 12.
"The win against Pepperdine is a good one to build on for next year," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "It was a game that really mattered to Pepperdine because it meant they'd be at home instead of UCLA (for tomorrow's quarterfinal)."
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There may be no "I" in team, but there were a number of "I's" that added up to a disappointing season for the Hawaii men's volleyball team.
Inexperience. Injury. Inconsistency.
The combination resulted in the Warriors finishing out of the playoffs for the first time since 1993, coach Mike Wilton's inaugural season.
There was plenty of individual talent, but it didn't come together often enough. It was a group that could falter at the end of a match against defending NCAA champion UC Irvine, losing in four, then turn around for a sweep of UCI the next night.
And, as happened a week ago, it was a group that lost ugly at Pepperdine in three but came back 24 hours later to stun the Waves in five, giving lone senior Jake Schkud the perfect aloha gift.
"We were young and inexperienced," Wilton said of his team that finished 11-16 overall, 8-14 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. "I know we'll be a much better team in 2009. We'll be older and more experienced and, hopefully, healthier."
The pressing need is sharper passing. Hawaii was last in the conference in sideout percentage. The runs of points the Warriors gave up led to their demise many a night.
Wilton said he has three scholarship offers out to players who would help in that department immediately. He'll also have libero Ric Cervantes, who led the country in digs, setting several UH records in the process, back for his junior year.
Hawaii, spending two weeks unranked for the first time ever, lacked a real terminator on offense. Freshman Joshua Walker showed great athleticism and quickness, only to struggle with consistency. Junior Jim Clar played through a shoulder problem until it was decided that, with six matches remaining, he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum and rest a broken rib.
Freshman Brennon Dyer showed promise after being thrust unexpectedly into starting on the outside, but he, too, battled injuries.
"We had a lot of guys we had hoped to bring along slowly who got thrust into the fire," Wilton said.
The Warriors continued to lead the league in blocking despite sophomore Matt Rawson missing half the season with illness and shoulder problems. He had one torn labrum repaired last week and is scheduled to have the other done next month.
Sophomore Steven Grgas ended up as one of the leading blockers in the country but wasn't as much of an offensive threat as needed. Freshman Keali'i Frank was effective when he got the ball -- a team-best .418 hitting percentage -- but, again, passing hurt the middle attack.
Injuries and indifference played a role in that. Sophomore Ernie Vidinha, a solid passer, was sidelined with back spasms and may never play again. Sophomore Matt Vanzant decided not to return to school. Freshman Dusan Matic, who started several matches at hitter, simply quit coming to practice and "is enjoying his beach time," Wilton said.
After a revolving door at setter, freshman Nejc Zemljak ended up running the offense because junior setter Sean Carney was needed as an outside hitter. The two expect to be pushed for a starting spot by redshirt freshman setter Sam Morehouse, who's already looking ahead to fall camp.
"I think we're all going to come back with a different attitude," Morehouse said. "It's going to be a bummer not having Schkud, he's such a great leader. We definitely don't want a repeat of this year.
"I know a lot of people will step up. Josh (Walker) is going to be a huge player. I'm excited about next season."
The Warriors lose sophomore hitter Nemanja Komar to economics. The Serbian national will become the team manager, a stipended position that covers the lack of financial aid.
There's a number of redshirts, mostly freshmen, who may or may not return for various reasons. One thing Hawaii has never lacked in fall camp is numbers and -- with several former local prep players rumored to be returning from mainland colleges -- that shouldn't change.
While attendance may never be that of the mid-'90s, Wilton believes that it could change by lowering ticket prices. He and new athletic director Jim Donovan have met and "he really gets it," Wilton said of Donovan.
Hawaii's fall schedule likely will include at trip to the University of British Columbia and the prestigious Thunderball Tournament. Both Stanford and USC, who have a number of island prep products on their rosters, have inquired about fall matches; it could wind up as a three-team tournament.
"It may sound odd, but I very much enjoyed this season," Wilton said. "I liked being around these guys, liked the effort they gave. A lot happened that required adjustments and they did the best they could.
"I like what we have coming back, but clearly the point of all our recruiting is improving the ability to sideout."