Mike Wilton

UH men's volleyball head coach Mike Wilton held the team's national championship trophy and eyed the huge crowd on hand at Honolulu Airport for the team's return from the NCAA tournament in May.

UH volleyball coach
led men’s team to
sport’s pinnacle

By Cindy Luis

Last month's trip to China was simply awe-inspiring for the Hawaii men's volleyball team.

Ten who made a difference
The Star-Bulletin is spotlighting 10 people who have made a difference in the community during 2002. This year's 10 is a diverse group but all have one thing in common: Each had a devotion to their cause and made a profound impact on Hawaii.

The Warriors played tourist, venturing through the Forbidden City and climbing the Great Wall.

In some respects, those were moments of deja vu for the Warriors. In May, Hawaii made a trip to its own Forbidden City when getting to the NCAA championship match for only the second time in the program's 23-year history.

And the Warriors, led by Coach Mike Wilton, climbed their version of the Great Wall when toppling No. 1 Pepperdine, 29-31, 31-29, 30-21, 30-24, at Rec Hall on the Penn State campus.

It was Hawaii's first-ever national title in any men's team sport and jump-served UH into volleyball's elite. Hawaii is one of just six schools to win both a men's and women's Division I volleyball championship.

"It's been a great year," said Wilton, who picked up his second NCAA Coach of the Year award earlier this month in New Orleans. "The trip to China was fabulous beyond the volleyball portion of it. It was very special to enjoy the culture, the friendships and the people.

"We didn't speak the same language, but we communicated. I'd go back in a second."

Wilton, beginning his 11th season at Manoa next month, could have just as easily been speaking about getting back to the final four. Hawaii had a tough road in May, needing to upend host Penn State to get to Pepperdine, a team that had won its last 17 matches, including a four-set victory over the Warriors a week earlier in Malibu, Calif.

As Wilton is fond of saying, the journey is more important than the destination. He has already put last season's title in his memory bank, with the only withdrawals being what the team can use to build on this coming year.

"I'm so over last season," said Wilton, who opens the season on Jan. 8 against Lewis. "I don't care for the term 'defending champion.' This is a new team, one that is totally different than last year's. We're not trying to defend anything. We're just trying to have a team in the hunt again.

"With so few schools playing (22 in Division I), everyone has a lot of talent. I think there's 15-16 teams that could actually win it this year. And we'd sure like to be one of them."

UH Athletics

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