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[ UH VOLLEYBALL ]
Warriors ride D-Train
HAWAII AT UC IRVINE
When: Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: Both matches live, KKEA (1420-AM).
Series: Hawaii leads 23-3.
"The D ball is working because we have great athletes," UH sophomore setter Brian Beckwith said. "I just have to put it up and they take care of it. Both Pedro (Azenha) and (Matt) Bender are great jumpers. It makes my life easier.
"The D ball helps spread the offense out. It keeps the (opposing) blockers thinking. The main thing is to have real good athletes who can jump well and hang (in the air)."
Azenha and Bender have proven more than capable of handling Beckwith's sets out of the back row. Bender had a combined 20 kills in two nights against the Matadors while Azenha had 32, including 19 in the sweep Friday.
Most of the senior's kills came on D-sets to the right side. In Games 2 and 3 Friday, Azenha continually thwarted the CSUN block, with 15 kills on 23 attempts and no errors (.654).
"It's been used for years in the men's game," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said of the D-set. "The women don't use it much because they can't do it consistently. They'll run the slide (or step-out) where the men don't run the slide that much.
"It's working well for us, but I'd like to see us become more of an equal opportunity attack. Right now, we have a two-prong attack on the outside (with Azenha and Beckwith). I'd like to see Jose (Delgado) get more involved."
Delgado, the Warriors' third starting outside hitter, has had limited success with spurts of greatness. He is third on the team in kills per game at 3.24, behind Azenha (4.89) and Bender (3.53).
Hawaii's third prong has become Maulia La Barre, whose timing on the quick set in the middle with Beckwith has become lethal. The junior blocker had 12 kills and no errors on 15 swings Friday, hitting .800.
"The quick set with Mau is unstoppable right now," Beckwith said. "He's up and available every time. He's really showing, through pure effort, how good someone can be.
"I'm excited about going on the road and see how we play together there. The main thing is to stay healthy on the road and play steady."
Hawaii's first road trip last season was a disappointment. The Warriors left the islands with a No. 1 ranking and returned with two losses, an ailing Beckwith and four players who would soon be suspended for breaking team rules on the trip.
The biggest problem for Hawaii at the moment is the league rule that allows only a travel roster of 12. That means just one libero and difficulty with 6-on-6 drills.
"Everyone hopes they'll have a young assistant who can step in like we do," said Wilton, who uses his son, former UH player Aaron, as a hitter during practices. "It's real hard to leave (sophomore libero) Eric Kalima behind.
"But it's a league administrative decree to save costs."
The backup liberos are hitters Matt Carere and Lauri Hakala.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tried another cost-cutting measure earlier this month when declaring that the league's four-team championship tournament would be played "somewhere in the Los Angeles area." UCLA is hosting the final four in May.
The change had the coaches in an uproar and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation officials have since backed off, reverting to the previously agreed-upon format. The top four teams will host quarterfinals with the highest remaining seed hosting the semifinals and final.
This week, Hawaii will face No. 11 UC Irvine, which defeated USC last week but fell to Pepperdine. Last season, the Warriors and Anteaters split their two matches in Honolulu.
"They're a good team, young but good," Wilton said. "We need to keep doing more of the same of what we did last week, serve and pass well, and spread the offense."
In the poll: Hawaii (4-1) remained No. 4 in yesterday's USA Today/CSTV Coaches Top 15. The Warriors are behind top-ranked UCLA, Pepperdine and Brigham Young.
Thomas not traveling: Senior All-American middle Delano Thomas is not academically eligible for this week's road trip. Thomas was scheduled to finish making up work from last semester by the end of this week with the expectation of rejoining the team in time for matches against Stanford next Thursday and Friday.
UCI sweeps: The Anteaters warmed up for their matches with Hawaii with a 30-2, 30-22, 30-18 sweep of Princeton last night. Freshman Jon Steller led UCI with 14 kills, his seventh consecutive double-digit kill performance, and freshman Nick Spittle added 12 kills and a career-high 11 digs.