Warriors begin
season on top

The defending champions
say they know what it takes

Warriors by position

By Grace Wen

When you reach the top of the mountain, there's nowhere to go but down.

Hawaii ascended the volleyball peak last May and stood above a small heap (22 schools sponsor Division I men's volleyball) when it was crowned national champion at Penn State.

The Warriors have a tough but similar climb to make this season if they want to celebrate at Long Beach State -- the site of the 2003 final four -- in five months.

Hawaii seems poised for a repeat in a year with no clear favorites, but it has the bull's-eye on its back.

Warriors coach Mike Wilton said last year's championship run was nice, but he is consumed with the present.

"I want to see us keep getting better each day. Any kind of a journey is like climbing the proverbial mountain," Wilton said. "You make progress. Sometimes you drop back a little bit, but the idea is to keep trudging up the hill. This team will do that.

Hawaii vs. Lewis

When: Wednesday and Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Radio: 1420-AM
Tickets: Available at the UH box office or by calling 944-2697

"Our ultimate goal is to be playing our best volleyball in April and May. To be in a position to win a conference title, to have an MPSF championship here and to try to advance to Long Beach."

As Hawaii proved last year, the start isn't as important as the finish. The Warriors dropped their home opener against Loyola Chicago and lost seven more matches before dancing around the floor at Rec Hall last May.

Wilton doesn't like to make year-to-year comparisons, but he said Hawaii is more advanced at this point than it was last year. The Warriors should be with five returning starters and three other players that saw a decent amount of playing time last season.

The senior outside-hitting corps of Costas Theocharidis, Eyal Zimet and Tony Ching should provide the leadership Hawaii needs while breaking in new starters Josh Stanhiser and libero Jake Muise.

"We practice really well now with a lot of intensity, so that's a confidence booster," Ching said. "We've come a long way from our first practice. There was a bunch of new guys and old guys. It took awhile to mesh that. So far the new guys have been filling in where we need them."

Though the pressure to win the first national title is gone, the Warriors say their desire to keep winning is still there.

"From watching the girls play all the time, we're just excited to play," setter Kimo Tuyay said. "The girls were very successful this season and we want to be just like that. We want to go out and get another ring.

"It's hard to win a title. You don't know how to get there. But since we've gotten there now, we know what we need to do to get there again."

The motivation of UH's veterans hasn't wavered either.

"Looking at the ring on your finger is a great motivation. Plus, it's our last year," Theocharidis said. "After this is over, we won't be able to get it back.

"It's going to take us awhile, but we can reach the level of last year. We have more pressure on us because we're the defending champions, but it's a great incentive to work harder."

Incentives to work harder might seem hard to find for Theocharidis. The 6-foot-3 outside hitter spent the summer playing international ball with the Greek national team and briefly considered professional volleyball.

But he opted to stay in Hawaii for a final season to complete the three-year investment in his education. Theocharidis has a chance to graduate as UH's first four-time All-American.

He is still the Warriors' go-to guy in hitting, but the group of players around him this season is strong enough that he figures improving his ball handling will be the way to help the team.

"My team needs me more passing-wise," Theocharidis said. "We'll have more people involved in the offense this year. Delano (Thomas) really became a force, so I need to improve my passing."

Note: Thomas will be able to play in Hawaii's home opener against Lewis on Wednesday. Thomas' game status was in question because of his academic situation.

"Delano can play. Nothing goes into effect until school starts and that buys him plenty of time to meet with that teacher and show that person the work," Wilton said.

"He can play until school starts. At least that's what Daniel Arakaki, University of Hawaii athletics department compliance officer, has told us. We have to go by what he tells us."


Warriors by position

Compared to a year ago, Hawaii is deeper at nearly every spot on the court. The loss of seniors Dejan Miladinovic and Vernon Podlewski hurts but the effects won't be felt for long. The Warriors have five starters back and a host of newcomers to fill the two holes. Here's a look at each position:

Outside hitter

Aside from injuries, the lineup will vary very little at the outside. Senior All-American Costas Theocharidis retains his spot, as do seniors Eyal Zimet and Tony Ching. Theocharidis shouldered the offense for the Warriors, hitting .347 with 5.49 kills a game. Zimet is the team's best passer and Ching has continued to improve since peaking during last year's national championship match.

If anyone struggles, freshman Pedro Azenha could break into the lineup after he sits out the first four matches of the season. The 6-foot-5 Brazilian is expected to be a major contributor next year, after Zimet, Ching and Theocharidis complete their eligibility.

Jose Delgado, last year's prize recruit, is redshirting this season because of a surplus of outside hitters. Freshman Matt Motter is listed as a libero, a setter and an outside hitter. The U.S. junior national team member will probably be an understudy to Zimet, whose primary responsibilities are to pass and then hit.

"The new guys are defining roles, but the pickings are slim," Wilton said.


Junior Kimo Tuyay is the incumbent, but sophomore Daniel Rasay is making a case to unseat him.

Last year, Rasay came off the bench to rescue Hawaii in the NCAA semifinals against Penn State. The 6-foot-2 sophomore has improved his accuracy and is closing the gap with Tuyay. Rasay and Tuyay have been working on becoming more deceptive setters and giving the opposing block the same look with each set.

Middle blocker

The Warriors will be thin at this position if Delano Thomas' academic woes make him ineligible, though, according to UH's compliance department, Thomas will be able to play in Hawaii's opener against Lewis.

Senior Brian Nordberg won't be able to play for at least another two weeks while he works his shoulder back into condition. Nordberg rehabbed like crazy after undergoing surgery last September.

One or two players with no previous Division I experience could see the court in the next few weeks. Junior Josh Stanhiser occupies one middle spot opposite Thomas, while Long Beach City College transfer Shaun Frederick has been thrust into the lineup recently. Frederick has been used often in practice to give Hawaii more depth should Thomas be ineligible.

The middles have been working on the slide set occasionally in practice, but the stigma of it being the "girl-set" may prevent it from being seen during matches.


The fiercest battle on the court is for Podlewski's replacement. Wilton said that junior Jake Muise has the edge for now.

"Jake had a good series of practices and done nothing to take himself out," Wilton said.

Muise's top challenger is Motter. The 6-4 utility player is ahead of fellow newcomer Arri Jeschke, an all-conference player at Santa Barbara City College. Motter, Jeschke and Zimet have been instructed to bring both sets of uniforms to matches. The libero can be changed at the start of each new game.

UH Athletics

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