Hawaii's Delano Thomas celebrated as the Warriors scored match point last night in a sweep of Pacific.

Warriors shake
off Tigers

Hawaii beats Pacific after
winning a frightening first game

Tight first game grabs attention

By Grace Wen

On the brink of a very long night after a disastrous start, second-ranked Hawaii dug deep and redirected itself to a thrilling sweep of seventh-ranked Pacific to advance to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals.

Before an exuberant crowd of 6,399 at the Stan Sheriff Center, the Warriors defeated the Tigers 37-35, 30-27, 30-27. Hawaii (24-5) will travel to Pepperdine for the MPSF semifinals and face second-seeded Brigham Young, a 3-1 winner over Cal State Northridge. The top-seeded Waves swept eighth-seeded Long Beach State and will play fifth-seeded UC Irvine, which defeated Stanford in four games. Pacific ends the season at 18-14.

"It was a big test and we had answers when it really, really mattered," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "We did a gamut of things you don't like. We squandered some pretty nice leads and we had to come from way back in Game 1.

"Give Pacific credit. They didn't go away. What showed tonight is that Pacific has been playing at a higher level of intensity than we last played them. We've been kind of a modified cruise control and they've been battling tooth and nail every time out. They were a little more comfortable with the heightened anxiety."

The first playoff match for the Tigers in four years ended after Game 1. Pacific coach Joe Wortmann stood the entire match and paced the sidelines, but he couldn't help his team on the court.

"The guys were literally leaving body parts on the floor," Wortmann said. "We did put ourselves in a position to win a game or even be right there in Games 2 and 3. They stepped up when they had to, Eyal stepped up at the end of the second game. I told my guys we'd play as hard as we can. When it started, they looked a little rattled."

The Tigers' Achilles' heel was their serving (four aces, 13 errors) and Wortmann was hoping that at the crucial times, his team wouldn't miss from the serving line, but it did.

The Warriors, meanwhile, seemed startled by the ferocity at which the Tigers attacked them in the beginning.

"It wasn't very good preparation for the playoffs, our last few games," said senior Eyal Zimet, who had five kills. "We had a rough start. They were really on their serves tonight. We had a few bad passes and mistakes in the beginning. But we were consistent enough to come back slowly and tire our opponents and that's what happened.

"We knew we were going to prevail. We were good enough when we needed to be. I wouldn't want to be our opponent."

Hawaii seemed like a great opponent, as the Tigers pounced on the Warriors early. In mere minutes, Hawaii dropped into a 6-1 hole in Game 1. The Tigers were more aggressive with their serving and opened the game hitting 1.000, with four different players getting kills. But Pacific's serving would cool off.

Hawaii played a pulsating game of catch-up to clean up their early mess. The Warriors were down by at least three most of the game until a serving run by Brian Nordberg revived Hawaii. Nordberg's first serve hit the tape and dropped over for an ace. Ching blasted a kill, and Delano Thomas and Kimo Tuyay stuffed Aaron Wachtfogel for the Warriors' first lead of the game at 20-19. Hawaii used a 6-4 run to squeeze ahead 26-23.

But Pacific responded with a 6-0 run to get to game point first. Wachtfogel shot a ball into the deep right corner that landed out, but officials called it good. The point started a run in which Hawaii unraveled and only recovered after staring at game point for the Tigers. But Pacific couldn't finish, as their serving failed them again. The Tigers missed nine serves, including three that could have ended the game.

Nils Dauburs served into the bottom of the net and it was the new life Hawaii needed. Theocharidis went back to the service line, ripped an ace and Hawaii got a key block from Ching and Nordberg to tie the game. There were five ties after 30 and the Tigers went up 35-34 off an ace by Martin Berntsen. But Berntsen misfired on game point and the Warriors would close out the game on two kills from Theocharidis, who finished the night with 18 kills.

Hawaii's momentum carried into Game 2, as the Warriors built a 6-1 lead. Pacific continued to battle and would tie the game at 11, but the Tigers could not overcome the hump to get ahead. Senior Tony Ching blasted through the block for a match-high 19 kills. Ching nearly closed out Game 2 for Hawaii, getting three of the Warriors' final five kills in the game.

"We were overexcited I think," Ching said. "We had four seniors, we all wanted to have good games for the last home match. We settled in and started playing well. Game 1 could easily have gone the other way. We focused in and did our thing.

"Winning Game 1 was a big factor. They were up big on us. They had many opportunities to put us away."

Hawaii opened a 14-7 lead in Game 3 that spelled the end for Pacific.

Wachtfogel and Berntsen led the Tigers with 15 kills. Sophomore Brian Zodrow, a Saint Louis alumnus, had six kills.

Hawaii def. Pacific

37-35, 30-27, 30-27

Tigers (18-14, 12-11 MPSF)

g k e att pct. bs ba d

Wachtfogel 3 15 7 33 .242 0 1 5

Berntsen 3 15 5 32 .312 0 2 8

Zodrow 3 6 4 17 .118 0 3 8

Daubers 3 6 2 14 .286 0 4 1

Tamas 3 1 0 7 .143 1 3 5

Rodgers 3 6 2 17 .235 0 3 1

Gawlik 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 13

Brizuela 2 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0

Totals 3 49 20 120 .242 1 16 41

Warriors (24-5, 18-5 MPSF)

g k e att pct. bs ba d

Tuyay 3 1 1 4 .000 0 3 6

Zimet 3 5 2 15 .200 0 4 10

Theocharidis 3 18 6 38 .316 0 2 3

Ching 3 19 4 39 .385 1 3 3

Nordberg 3 6 4 12 .167 1 3 2

Thomas 3 8 2 17 .353 1 6 2

Muise 3 0 1 1 -1.000 0 0 13

Bender 1 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0

Totals 3 57 20 126 .294 3 21 39

Key -- g: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct.: hitting percentage; bs: block solos; ba: block assists; d: digs.

Aces -- Pacific (4): Berntsen, Daubers, Tamas, Rodgers. Hawaii (5): Thomas 3, Nordberg, Theocharidis.

Assists -- Pacific (46): Tamas 39, Gawlik 3, Berntsen 3, Zodrow. Hawaii (55): Tuyay 52, Zimet, Theocharidis, Thomas.

T -- 1:52. Officials -- Verna Klubnukin, Dan Hironaka. A -- 6,399.


Tight first game grabs
Hawaii’s attention

By Cindy Luis

Where is a match won and lost? What are the intangibles, the little things, that are the difference between going on in the playoffs and going home?

When Hawaii and Pacific look back on last night's first-round match, the teams will be able to point to the defining moment as coming late in Game 1. It was some 30 minutes into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation postseason contest at the Stan Sheriff Center, a match that would last 1 hour and 52 minutes and end with a 37-35, 30-27, 30-27 Warrior victory.

Taking Game 1 had been important all season. The Warriors were 2-2 when dropping the first set, the Tigers 3-8.

But Hawaii didn't appear to be in danger of losing Game 1 for the first time since March 14. The Warriors looked to be cruising to their 14th consecutive win, up 26-23, and looking at point No. 27.

That is until UOP's Aaron Wachtfogel hit an angle shot to the deep back corner. The Warriors saw it as an out ball; the crowd of 6,399 saw it as an out ball; television replays showed it as an out ball.

The linesman saw it differently and that was all that mattered. Instead of 27-23, it was 26-24. Then 26-25 as the normally supportive fans were uncharacteristic with their boos, even jeering the "sportsmanship reminder" made over the public address system.

The Tigers grabbed the momentum and swung it around for another four points, using an ace, a Warrior net violation, the ensuing yellow card on Costas Theocharidis for kicking the ball and a kill by Wachtfogel on an overpass to reach game point at 29-26.

Where would it go from here?

"The whole match was that first game," said Theocharidis, putting down 18 kills. "I'm just happy that it (the yellow-card point) didn't lose the game for us. We came back and played really well after that.

"Game 1 was big for us and big for them. After losing, they seemed to get tired and we took care of business."

Next up is a trip to Pepperdine and Thursday's semifinal with BYU.

When Hawaii got rattled in Game 1 after the bad call, it reminded some of the 1996 NCAA title match, when the Warriors were two points away from defeating UCLA in four. Instead, Hawaii hung on to a bad call and never shook it off, losing Games 4 and 5 and the banner.

But not last night. Tiger coach Joe Wortmann's worst fears of poor serving during a critical situation were realized when Nils Daubers served into the bottom of the net.

An ace by Theocharidis. A block by Tony Ching and Brian Nordberg. And Hawaii was back on the tightrope at 29-29.

The Tigers had five more game points, the Warriors two. But Hawaii made its second one count, with three unanswered points-- two on kills by Theocharidis -- to pull it out at 37-35.

"We've been in that spot before, we've been down 29-24 and come back to win," said Ching, who had a match-high 19 kills. "We never feel we're out of it. They were up a bit on us, had many opportunities to put us away. Winning Game 1 was a big factor

"They gave us a great match, battled with us, dug everything. It was a great atmosphere to play in and should be a good sendoff for next week."

Wortmann's focus will be on next season.

"Let's talk about how well we played," said the UOP coach. "We played well in Game 1 and it set the tone for us, showed that we were going to play as hard as we could play.

"We've gotten better since they last saw us (last month). If they weren't focused tonight, they would have lost that first game. If they weren't focused, they may have lost the match. To their credit, they stepped it up. They're the reigning national champs and they know they'd better play hard and they'd better play well."

UH Athletics


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