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This underdog has a legit chance, doesn't it?


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POSTED: Thursday, December 17, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. » This is where I'm supposed to write I think Hawaii can beat Penn State tonight ... or, that the Wahine might as well scatter and run as far as they can from the St. Pete Times Forum, and avoid being shelled by the flaming, speed-of-light kill shots flying off the arms of the omnipotent Nittany Lions. After all, Penn State hasn't lost a volleyball match since Joe Paterno was a grad assistant, and it plays in The Greatest Volleyball Conference That Has Ever Existed, otherwise known as the Big Ten (just ask anyone in it, they'll tell you all about it).

Of course I think UH can win.

But I also thought the Warriors could beat the Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. I thought Kauai could beat 'Iolani, that Rocco could beat Tiger. Saddest of all, I thought I could hit that flush draw.

I'm a sucker for the underdog. I long for the longshot, and I put my faith in the little guy. Always have and always will — probably because I was usually one myself as a kid, especially in sports.

So, when I tell you Hawaii can beat Penn State tonight, ignore me.

Instead, heed the words of Karch Kiraly — one of the greatest players ever and a man who knows more about volleyball than Einstein did about E=mc2.

Kiraly — the analyst for today's ESPN2 broadcast — told me the same thing several volleyballistas said yesterday: Hawaii can win, but only if it stays “;in system.”; That means good passing. Even if Penn State serves great, UH must put the ball where setter Dani Mafua can do something ... no, make that some things ... with it.

Dig it?

That's precisely what the Wahine must do.

“;It's a cliche at this point, but so much of it is passing well,”; Kiraly said. “;Neutralize their serve and do not let them neutralize yours. If Hawaii is not in system it will be in trouble. But they have a lot of nice passers. Aneli (Cubi-Otineru), Kanani (Danielson), (Elizabeth) Ka'aihue.”;

That's what our volleyball expert, Cindy Luis, says, too. Especially when you run a quick offense like Hawaii, your setter needs options. The great equalizer in war and sports, deception, comes into play. But you can't confuse taller, slower opponents and catch them out of position when your hand is forced, your choices narrowed.

And the reverse is true, too. Hawaii must serve effectively, if not destructively.

“;It's all the more critical to serve a team like Penn State out of its offense,”; Kiraly said.

That means the playing-hurt Amber Kaufman must deal some aces, or at least some serves wicked enough to force Penn State to shank passes toward the rough instead of to the soft hands of setter Alisha Glass.

It's a given underdogs must play smart. And the Wahine are smart. Kiraly agreed.

“;Hawaii is a fun team to watch. They've got great volleyball IQ,”; Mr. Oly Gold said. “;It seems like the players don't match up in height, but if Hawaii runs the offense it wants to run ...”;

Oh, and the old June Jones mantra of course: One snap and clear. Can't get flustered, especially in the era of rally scoring.

“;Hawaii has to have a 'next-play' mentality. Penn State will probably make some spectacular plays to score points. You have to turn your back and make the next play,”; Kiraly said.

The only stuff from the past UH wants to remember is that just last week it beat two teams from The Greatest Volleyball Conference That Has Ever Existed to get here.

Why not one more?

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.