Star-Bulletin Sports


Hawaii's Dejan Miladinovic, left, and Costas Theocharidis tried to block a spike from Brigham Young's Scott Bunker during the Warriors' victory in last year's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals . Hawaii hosts BYU for matches Friday and Saturday.

UH sees itself
in BYU

The teams are similar in many ways,
including a Wilton on each side

By Grace Wen

When the Hawaii volleyball team takes the court against Brigham Young this weekend, don't be alarmed if you think you're seeing double.

Hawaii and BYU resemble each other enough that some players have said the matches may be no different than if the Warriors were playing against themselves.

"They're kind of a mirror image of us," outside hitter Tony Ching said. "They play with the same idea and the same speed as us. Their defensive strategies, since they're a small team, is pretty much ours. Their offense is a quick offense, they try to beat the block out. They've got a good setter. It should be interesting. It's kind of like playing ourselves."

Hawaii hosts BYU tomorrow and Saturday at 7 p.m. for the conference's final two matches. It will be the last regular-season home matches for seniors Dejan Miladinovic and Vernon Podlewski.

The Cougars (21-5, 15-5) have as much international flavor as the Warriors (19-6, 16-4), with three Brazilians, two Puerto Ricans and an American in the starting lineup.

Setter Carlos Moreno is the son of a four-time Brazilian Olympian. Moreno arrived in Utah in January after the Cougars' first two matches against Stanford. It took some time for him to adjust but under the tutelage of assistant coach Hector Lebron, the 2001 player of the year, there has been much improvement.

"The one real big difference is the setter," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "He's deceptive. He's a talented player. Hector had a lot of experience and time with those guys. This kid doesn't have the experience and time, but he's still very talented and he's going to make some nice plays. "

The two teams are eerily similar with firepower mostly concentrated on the outside. Seniors Joaquin Acosta and Mike Wall anchor the Cougar hitting, with both outside hitters averaging more than four kills a game. As a team, BYU is hitting .349 this season, the same percentage as Hawaii.

The Cougars even have their own version of Mike Wilton. The youngest son of the Warriors' head coach is the backup libero for the Cougars. Wilton Jr. could see court time this weekend, which makes for a double dose of awkwardness for Wilton Sr. as he is coaching against his son and long-time good friend BYU coach Carl McGown.

"Playing BYU is always different for me," Wilton said. "I'm a real good friend of the coach for a long time. He's going to try to lick us and we're going to try to lick them.

"I've got a son on the other team who's the backup libero. I'm really proud of him. That's a real good program to be a part of. (But) it's going to be uncomfortable as heck."

The only winners in this might be the other members of the Wilton clan. For Ku'ulei Wilton, the wife of Mike Sr. and the mother of Mike Jr., it's not necessarily a win-win situation.

"It places me in a difficult position," Ku'ulei said. "Do I cheer for my husband or my son? I told the boys, I'm cheering for my son. I've never been able to cheer for my son."

A Hawaii-BYU split might be the best solution for family harmony, but it wouldn't be the best thing for the Warriors. Hawaii could lock up second place in the conference with a sweep, but a split or two losses mean the Warriors could have a much tougher draw in the conference tournament.

It happened last season after the Warriors lost the final two matches of the season to the Cougars. The defeats dropped Hawaii from a possible top seed all the way down to the No. 4 spot in the tournament. Wilton doesn't see the same thing happening.

"We've got some guys stepping up right now," Wilton said. "Kimo (Tuyay) had a very nice match. He's starting to string together some nice matches. Tony played well. We're playing good team volleyball right now.

"(BYU) is another team that's playing some good volleyball. They are good. They don't have the middles they have last year, but Chris Gorny is a good hitter. The other middle (Rafael Paal) is a crafty hitter. They're not guys you can totally ignore."

The Cougars are riding a 10-match win streak, but McGown noted that they haven't played anyone of Hawaii's caliber.

"It's always difficult to come to Hawaii," McGown said. "The fact that we happen to be in California for two matches is good for us. We'll be physically well prepared. Whether we're good enough is another story.

"The road trip we're on is huge in terms of where we could finish. We could end up second in the MPSF or we could end up sixth. I'm pleased we've played well enough to have something big be able to happen. If you're no good, nothing big can happen because it doesn't matter."

Note: UCLA coach Al Scates told the Daily Bruin that he apologized for his remarks about Warrior mascot Vili Fehoko.

"I like the guy," Scates said. "He really revs the crowd. I wish we had somebody like that running around here. But I apologize to Mr. Fehoko because I assumed he was Samoan."

UH Athletics

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