Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, January 29, 2002



Stanford presents
stiff challenge

By Grace Wen

Even the best teams would have a hard time being in two places at once.

But that's exactly where the Stanford volleyball team is, and it puts Hawaii in an unusual spot.

The fourth-ranked Warriors are simultaneously above and below the Cardinal. No matter which poll you believe, Stanford -- ranked No. 2 in the AVCA coaches' poll and No. 5 in the Volleyball magazine poll -- poses a serious challenge for the first time since 1997 when it won a national championship.

Hawaii plays Stanford in the first of two matches in Palo Alto today at 5 p.m. HST.

The Cardinal (5-1, 4-1 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) split two fall exhibition matches against the Warriors. At the time, Hawaii coach Mike Wilton was testing out various lineups and did not play the Warriors (3-2) at full strength in both matches.

He won't be doing that this time around.

"They're a good team," Wilton said. "They were talented but young last year. They've grown up a lot. The new setter is a big upgrade for them. And they have some young guys that have been in the program for awhile."

Some of them have been there longer than the coach. First-year men's coach Don Shaw resigned as head women's coach last summer to fill the vacancy left by Ruben Nieves. (Nieves resigned to take a position with Stanford's positive coaching alliance outreach program.)

Shaw is no stranger to the program, having shared co-head coaching duties with Fred Sturm between 1983-84 for the men's and women's programs before taking over the women's program full time. He led the Stanford women to four national titles (1992, 1994, 1996, 1997) before taking a sabbatical in 2000.

Fortunately for Shaw, he had nearly a full arsenal to work with, with four starters returning. Second team All-American Curt Toppel leads the attack, averaging 5.73 kills per game and is just one of the reasons Stanford is in the MPSF title hunt after three sub-par seasons following its title run. Redshirt freshman Kevin Hansen has been running the offense that is outhitting opponents .402 to .252.

Wilton estimates that there are about six teams with a legitimate opportunity to win the conference. In the mix are Hawaii, Stanford, defending national champion BYU (whom the Cardinal split with on a recent trip to Provo), UCLA, Long Beach State and Pepperdine.

And with the league adopting a new format (all 12 teams play each other twice), a lot will depend on which team is peaking at the right time.

"Every match in the conference will be important," Wilton said. "The teams can come on when they come into their own. Anything can happen at the end."

For now, Hawaii will be trying to be more efficient in all its rotations.

"We have a couple of rotations that need to be far more productive," Wilton said. "We have three strong ones, one that's scoring at 80 percent and one that's at 57 percent, which is unsatisfactory."

The Warriors are the last MPSF team to start conference play.

Notes: Hawaii is without the services of outside hitter Tony Ching, who did not make the trip. Ching missed the Outrigger tournament with a strained right shoulder.

UH Athletics

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