Star-Bulletin Sports


When Vernon Podlewski transferred to Hawaii from Santa Barbara City College, he had to switch from outside hitter to libero. He was an all-WAC selection in his first season.

Podlewski plays
like a little lion

He excels quietly, surrounded by
a bunch of UH giraffes

By Grace Wen

In the land of the Green Giant, Vernon Podlewski is Sprout.

He is the smallest Warrior volleyball player in the patch and the one who obviously looks different. As the Warriors' libero, Podlewski always wears a different color jersey than the rest of his teammates.

UH But being different is good, because it gives the 5-foot-8 senior almost as much visibility and time on the court as it does the 6-foot-plus giants who dominate the sport.

Whether he's making the first pass or the sprawling dig that starts the Warriors' transition game, Podlewski's responsibilities are as great as his teammates who shoulder the net duties of hitting and blocking.

"That first pass is the platform you build your whole offense on and for a smaller team, that becomes doubly important," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said.

"He's made many great contributions. He works really hard. He's been a delight to have around."

Podlewski and senior Dejan Miladinovic play in their final regular-season home match tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Podlewski's stint in Manoa has been a short one so far. The 25-year old arrived last season in January, fresh from Santa Barbara City College.

His collegiate career began at the position he now replaces in the back row. Podlewski competed as a middle blocker his freshman year before moving to outside hitter the following season. When he transferred to Hawaii and Division I volleyball, his career took a more defensive focus.

"I thought it was over for me," Podlewski said. "I thought that was going to be it, playing for a JC. Without this position, I don't think I would have had as much of a chance.

"It was kind of an easy transition from being an aggressive hitter to an aggressive digger. In my head I'm calling for the ball. Hit the ball here, serve me."

Podlewski's aggressiveness led to 213 digs and first team all-conference recognition as the top libero in the league last year. He averages 2.07 digs per game now, just slightly off his team-leading mark of 2.17 in 2001.

And though he's proud of what he's accomplished at this level, Podlewski knows that he doesn't garner the same attention of his counterparts when they block a ball or deliver a game-winning kill. It's an aspect of the game he misses.

"It's not as glamorous for sure," Podlewski said. "I miss that part of it because you can end the game with a kill or a serve. I've felt that feeling of putting a ball off at game point or serving a tough serve to create a shank. I don't mind having the pressure of being a hitter and stuff.

"For me it wasn't much of a problem. It was more being able to keep going with the state of mind that I'm small and I can still play with the big guys. Knowing that everything around me is height, height, height. It's a continuous psychological thing knowing that."

Podlewski still wages psychological war, but it's more as a defender than an attacker. He reminds himself that sometimes volleyball is no different than survival in the animal kingdom.

"I'm like a lion," Podlewski said. "Giraffes are taller, but lions eat giraffes. I'm fierce like a lion."

The Haliimaile, Maui, native shows no fear defending the court against some of collegiate volleyball's biggest hitters because he's not afraid of them.

"I don't keep a lock on this game like a lot of guys," Podlewski said. "I don't know a lot about the other players out there. I don't know who they are. All I know is I'm going out there. I'm going to play. Maybe that helps me to perform on a clear basis."

He hasn't come close to digging a ball with his face yet because of an explosive first step that puts him in the right position most of the time. Podlewski's teammates recognize the difficulty of his position and his tenacity at chasing down balls.

"He does defense and passing, which is really fundamental to our game," Miladinovic said. "Proof of it was against UCLA. It means so much for our offense. We were so efficient the second night. It all starts with passing. On defense, he does a great job. He's full of energy. He always talks a lot.

"It's not a tall-people sport anymore. I'm pleased. I'm fine with just playing front row because it's hard playing defense. And I'm not very good at it. I don't get many digs. I get one or two a game, so I'm pretty excited when I get them. He knows how to appreciate it."


When: 7 p.m. today and tomorrow
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE (Channel 5)
Radio: Live, KCCN 1420-AM
Notes: Hawaii trails the series 13-11. ... Hawaii seniors Dejan Miladinovic and Vernon Podlewski will be honored following tomorrow night's match.

Sprout and the Giant have a natural appreciation for each other.

"We both accept our roles really well," Podlewski said. "They do a great job in the front. I do a great job in the back. You could say it's like that movie 'Twins.' Big brother, small brother. I like to see them get a dig. When they get a dig, they look at me and go, 'Did you see that dig?' "

Podlewski is a global environmental science major. Santa Barbara City College didn't transfer most of his classes, so he'll need at least another year to finish his course work. He sheepishly admits that he hasn't spent much time planning his next move, but he has a few ideas of what he might like to do.

"It would be selfish for me to think ahead right now. I haven't even had a chance to win a national championship yet," Podlewski said.

"Playing here was not just a goal for me, it was a dream. There's a difference between goals and dreams. Goals are more easily reached and dreams are more far-fetched. It takes a lot more to achieve a dream. I have a lot of good in what I do in my position to help other liberos out there. So maybe that could be a way of me coaching somewhere."


HAWAII (19-6, 16-4 MPSF)

Ht. KPG Aces Digs

S Kimo Tuyay (So.) 6-2 0.40 5 107

MB Dejan Miladinovic (Sr.) 6-7 2.12 2 41

MB Delano Thomas (Fr.) 6-7 1.89 13 15

OH Costas Theocharidis (Jr.) 6-3 5.62 31 139

OH Eyal Zimet (Jr.) 6-2 2.62 10 124

OH Tony Ching (Jr.) 6-2 2.44 1 59

L Vernon Podlewski (Sr.) 5-8 N/A N/A 173


Ht. KPG Aces Digs

S Carlos Moreno (So.) 6-3 0.55 22 82

MB Chris Gorny (So.) 6-6 1.81 7 34

MB Rafael Paal (Jr.) 6-6 1.77 37 155

OH Luka Slabe (Jr.) 6-1 2.25 18 73

OH Joaquin Acosta (Jr.) 6-5 4.18 7 126

OPP Mike Wall (Sr.) 6-4 4.82 20 122

L Fernando Pessoa (So.) 6-4 N/A N/A 85

UH Athletics

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