Warriors hope to break the code for postseason entry
POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009
It's not like they haven't done it before.
No. 13 Hawaii (6-13, 3-11) at No. 1 UC Irvine (17-3, 12-2), 4 p.m. tomorrow (Hawaii time); Radio/TV: None
Two years ago, the Hawaii men's volleyball team was in the same position the Warriors find themselves today. Needing to win eight to get to .500 and into the playoffs.
Unlike 2007, however, the schedule over the last four weeks of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play isn't quite as kind this time around. Hawaii's uphill climb is akin to that of Sisyphus ... a goal that is within sight but may be out of reach.
The first obstacle is No. 1 UC Irvine, winner of its last five and 13 of 14, which is in the midst of its own battle. The Anteaters (17-3, 12-2) are tied for the MPSF lead with Pepperdine, just a half-game ahead of Cal State Northridge.
CSUN's only losses have come to Hawaii — twice to open MPSF play — and to UCI. The Anteaters' victory came in five at Northridge on March 13, UCI's last match.
It could be rust vs. jetlag tomorrow at the Bren Center. Budget restraints have meant the Warriors do not travel to California until the day before a match and "it makes it hard," UH sophomore hitter Joshua Walker said before the team left this afternoon. "We get in at night, get up for video the next morning, get to the gym for serve-and-pass, and then play.
"It's been tough playing that first night. We've been slow out of the gate. But this is the No. 1 team in the country. We have to be ready."
The Warriors may not be as ready as they'd like. Illness has hit the team, with senior hitter Sean Carney missing the past two practices, freshman middle Ramzi Korkor out yesterday, and senior defensive specialist Mike China at less than 100 percent. Junior middle Matt Rawson has also been slowed by a groin pull.
Carney may not make the trip, according to Hawaii coach Mike Wilton, a decision that was to be made this morning. In Carney's place would be freshman hitter Steven Hunt, cleared to participate fully in practice Monday after being sidelined since Feb. 13 with a fractured hand.
"If Hunt were to play, he'd bring something different than (the Anteaters) have scouted," said junior middle Steven Grgas, ranked sixth nationally in blocks (1.42 per set). "But Sean is someone we need on the court. It's more than his energy — we need his experience.
"Winning those two last week gives us some confidence to build on. We have eight left and we need them all. I'm not thinking too far down the road, just trying to keep my mind in the moment."
UCI presents a big challenge — literally — for Hawaii. The Anteaters lead the country with 3.58 blocks per set, anchored by 6-foot-8 junior middle Bryan Simmons (1.60 bps) — the MPSF block leaders — and 6-5 freshman middle Austin D'Amore (1.44 bps). At 6-8, senior setter Ryan Ammerman puts up a big block as well (1.07 bps).
The Anteaters' defense is set up by senior All-America libero Brent Asuka ('Iolani '05), averaging 2.55 digs per set. He holds the top two single-season dig marks and became the school's all-time leader in digs last season.
"UCI is a good team. They're disciplined and are not going to make the mistakes like New Jersey Tech did last week," UH junior hitter Joe Strotman said. "We've got to cut down on unforced errors. I think we can turn it around, but we need to take it one game at a time."