MPSF tank still
full of talent

NCAA champion Brigham
Young is out to defend its title

Half of the men's volleyball star power is gone from last year's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all-league selections. But it doesn't mean the galaxy has become a black hole.

There is plenty of talent returning to more than compensate for the loss of five of 2004's MPSF first-team selections. And, as always, there will be plenty of novae bursting onto the scene.

"It's going to be another typical year in the MPSF," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "It's going to be really tough. I don't see anyone running away with it, at least not right now."

Hawaii and defending NCAA champion Brigham Young are the only teams not to have played a conference match. The Warriors host Cal State Northridge (1-1) tomorrow and Friday, while the Cougars are at UC Santa Barbara Friday and Saturday.

BYU handed Hawaii its only nonconference loss of the season 11 days ago. The Cougars suffered their first loss last Friday at home at the hands of defending NAIA champion Cal Baptist.

Taking the early lead atop the standings are Pepperdine (2-0), which picked up two road wins at Pacific and Stanford last week, and surprising UC Santa Barbara (2-0), which upset Long Beach State last week and rallied past injury-hobbled UC San Diego last night

Also unbeaten is UCLA (1-0), which swept UC Irvine in its opener.

"But it's really too early to tell," Wilton said. "We're looking forward to opening conference play, and we open against a real quality team. They were good last year and they're good this year.

"They have very aggressive jump-servers and a quick-attack oriented team. And (Brian) Waite is as good of a middle as I've seen in a long time."

The Warriors welcomed the return of junior hitter Matt Carere at yesterday's practice. He had missed the Outrigger Invitational two weeks ago as well as Friday's alumni match.

"What it does is give us another good outside hitter," Wilton said, "but it means a tough decision when narrowing down to 12 from 15 (for the playing roster).

Senior All-American middle Delano Thomas won't be in uniform this week while he finishes up some academic deficiencies from the fall. Due to NCAA regulations, he is not allowed to practice with the team. He may or may not be eligible for next week's road trip to UC Irvine.

At look at the MPSF, according to last year's league finish with last year's records in parenthesis:

BYU (29-4, 20-2)

The defending champions lost five starters but seemingly didn't lose a beat when filling in the holes.

The biggest loss was junior setter Carlos Moreno, the AVCA Player of the Year. But as the Stan Sheriff Center crowds saw two weeks ago, Rob Neilsen has stepped right in to run the multi-faceted offense.

Difference makers: The Cougars have two in very athletic junior hitter Victor Batista, who played middle last season, and senior hitter Casey Patterson.

Top newcomer: Freshman Ivan Perez had 12 kills Saturday as the Cougars rebounded from their first loss the previous night to sweep Cal Baptist.

Long Beach State (28-7, 18-4)

The 49ers lost three of their big guns from last year in opposite Scott Touzinsky, middle David Lee and hitter Jeff Wootton. But The Beach does return one of the best setters in the country in junior Tyler Hildebrand.

Difference makers: Senior hitter Nate Hagstrom had a career-high 20 kills and added 10 digs as the 49ers rallied past Cal State Northridge 3-2, after being down 0-2 last week. Senior opposite Yassir Sliti added a double-double as well against the Matadors (14 kills, 10 digs).

Top newcomer: Red-shirt freshman hitter Paul Lotman had a career-high 11 kills in the loss to UC Santa Barbara.

UCLA (24-6, 17-5)

The Bruins have extra incentive this year as they will host the NCAA Championship for the 13th time. UCLA has won 18 national titles, including nine at Pauley Pavilion, and only twice when hosting have the Bruins not made it to the championship match (1985 and 1999).

UCLA finished nonconference play last week with a 3-2 victory over Cal Baptist, then opened the MPSF season with a sweep of UC Irvine. The Bruins also won the 41st Elephant Bar Tournament, hosted by UCSB, with a 3-2 win over CSU Northridge.

Biggest loss: Gone are All-American libero Adam Shrader and imposing middle Chris Pena.

Difference makers: Senior middle Paul Johnson and senior opposite Kris Kraushaar each had 12 kills and Kraushaar had three aces in defeating the Anteaters. Oft-injured senior hitter Jonathan Acosta looked healthy in putting down 10 kills.

Top newcomer: Redshirt freshman Gaby Acevedo has filled in more than adequately for senior Dennis Gonzalez (academics). Trying to break into the starting lineup is freshman libero Tony Ker, a five-time Junior Olympic All-American and junior national team member.

Pepperdine (19-9, 14-8)

The Waves made their Northern California trip a successful one, with victories at Pacific and Stanford. Pepperdine's next challenge will be tomorrow when traveling to UCLA.

Biggest loss: Using up his eligibility was first-team All-MPSF middle Fred Winters, third in the league in kills (4.79) and second in points (kills plus blocks plus aces.)

Difference maker: Senior hitter Sean Rooney had his first double-double of the season (24 kills, 12 digs) in the win over the Cardinal. Rooney also had 36 kills as the Waves rallied from an 0-2 deficit to rally past the Tigers in five.

Rooney is one of only two first-team league selections back this year. The other is 49ers setter Hildebrand.

Top newcomer: Freshman Jonathan Winder has taken over setting duties from senior John Mayer, who has been converted to outside hitter. Mayer had 12 kills in the victory at Stanford.

Hawaii connection: The Waves have five island products on the roster: junior hitter Arist de Wolff (Saint Louis), freshman hitter Max de Wolff (Academy of the Pacific), junior hitter Jon Grobe (Iolani), senior libero James Ka (Kamehameha) and freshman hitter Eric Liebert (Punahou).

CSU Northridge (19-11, 13-9)

The Matadors split their matches last week, falling to Long Beach State in five -- after leading 2-0 -- and sweeping UC San Diego. Last year, the Matadors beat the Warriors twice in the same season at the Matadome for the first time, and for just the fourth time since 1979.

Biggest loss: Setter Ty Tramblie left his mark on the program last season, finishing an All-American season No. 4 on the Matador assist list (4,090). He led the team to 19 wins, the most since 1993.

Difference makers: Waite, a junior middle, led the MPSF in blocks last season (1.51 bpg) and is hitting .519 so far this year. He had a team-high 17 kills in the loss to the 49ers and 14 in the victory over the Tritons.

Senior hitter Nils Nielsen also had 14 kills against the Tritons. He was among the MPSF leaders in aces.

Top newcomer: Redshirt freshman hitter Isaac Kneubuhl (Kamehameha) has started every match and is third in kill average (2.52 kpg) and second in aces (five).

Hawaii (17-12, 13-9)

The Warriors tuned up for the MPSF opener with a sweep against their talented alumni team Friday.

Hawaii finished second in its own Outrigger Invitational, losing its first match of the season to top-ranked BYU.

Biggest loss: Kimo Tuyay, the setter who led Hawaii over Pepperdine in the 2002 NCAA championship, is now selling real estate. He split time with then-freshman Brian Beckwith.

Difference makers: Senior All-American Pedro Azenha continues to carry a heavy load on offense while the Warriors await the return of Thomas. Azenha leads the team in kills and aces. Also coming up with strong outings is junior middle Mauli'a La Barre.

Top newcomer: Sophomore hitter Lauri Hakala, from Finland, continues to work himself into the starting spot.

UC Santa Barbara (14-16, 9-13)

The only thing that has stopped the Gauchos so far in the MPSF is the closure of Highway 101. Last week's rains and mudslides forced the match against Long Beach State to be moved to Saturday and last Wednesday's match against UC San Diego to be rescheduled for last night.

It hasn't mattered. The Gauchos won both, including last night's 24-30, 30-32, 30-25, 30-24, 15-12 win over the Tritons.

Biggest Loss: The 2004 season. The Gauchos were young and needed more seasoning.

Difference makers: Freshman of the Year Evan Patak is back and continues to impress. He had 31 kills in the upset of Long Beach State, hitting .462.

Top newcomer: Theo Brunner, a 6-foot-7 freshman middle from Connecticut, had 10 kills in beating the 49ers.

UC Irvine (14-18, 8-14)

The Anteaters have to show that there is life without Jimmy Pelzel, their outstanding outside hitter and program's first All-American.

UCI will try to rebound from its opening loss to UCLA when hosting USC tomorrow.

Biggest loss: Pelzel, the all-time kill leader. Enough said.

Difference makers: The Anteaters have two player with international experience in sophomore hitter Jayson Jablonsky and sophomore middle David Smith, who helped the U.S. to the silver medal at the NORCECA junior championships against Cuba.

Top newcomer: Freshman hitter Jon Stiller has led the team in kills in three of the four matches, including 19 in the loss to UCLA.

Hawaii connection: Redshirt freshman hitter Chad Miller (Iolani) is on the roster.

Pacific (10-19, 6-16)

The Tigers looked good during the fall island tour against the Warriors. Both of their MPSF matches have gone five with the Tigers losing to Pepperdine Friday before coming back Saturday to hold off the Trojans.

Biggest Loss: Senior middle Sean Rogers averaged 2.78 kills and hit .474.

Difference maker: Senior Nils Dauburs nearly set a new school single-match record for blocks as he finished with 15 total blocks and 13 block assists, each just one shy of the record, in the win over USC. He also hit .588 with 10 kills and had four aces, bringing his season total to 19.

Top newcomers: Freshmen Mike Gonzalez (middle) and Simon Chen-Byerley (hitter) are making significant contributions with Chen-Byerley starting all seven matches and Gonzalez six.

Hawaii connection: Senior opposite Brian Zodow (Saint Louis) leads the team in kills (5.32 kpg). Senior hitter Bryson Metz (Kamehameha) has played sparingly.

Stanford (9-18, 6-16)

The Cardinal return 10 lettermen in their quest to make the playoffs. They won their opener against USC, but fell to Pepperdine, hurt by injuries to two attackers.

Difference maker: Senior All-American setter Kevin Hansen is one of the best in the country. He is the fourth Cardinal to have at least 4,000 assists.

Top newcomers: Seeing the most time this season are freshmen Brian Skinner, a 6-4 middle, and 6-6 opposite Matt Ceran.

UCSD (8-21, 4-18)

By most standards, 2004 was a rough year. But the four MPSF wins was the most in the Division II team's history and coach Ron Larsen was named conference coach of the year.

Biggest Losses: Senior middles Kevin Keyser and Shawn Oksenendler, both All-Academic MPSF.

Difference maker: With their three leading hitters out with injuries, the Tritons have gone to their reserves. Senior Luke Honnette had 15 kills and 10 digs in the loss to Northridge. Sophomore Mike Reuter had 15 kills against UCSB last night.

Top newcomer: Freshman middle John Mark Wendler had seven kills and hit .417 in losing to the Matadors.

USC (6-23, 4-18)

The young Trojans had a successful fall, giving coach Turhan Douglas more hope than he's had in years. The Trojans were swept by Stanford and then fell in five at Pacific.

Difference makers: Junior Joao Grangeiro is considered one of the best liberos in the country, keeping USC in matches with his defense. Sophomore opposite Matt Mosko had 17 kills in the loss to the Tigers.

Top newcomer: Freshman setter Jimmy Killian, a Fab 50 pick, was considered one of the top prospects in the nation. He is a graduate of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, the same school as Hawaii's Beckwith and freshman transfer Jake Schkud.

Mountain Pacific Sports Federation

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