UH hosts Gauchos with
much on the line

Hawaii is home for a short time --
and hopes for two wins

Short and sweet. Short and sweep.

That's how the Hawaii volleyball team is looking at its brief visit home this week. After an 11-day road trip to the mainland, the Warriors are back in the Stan Sheriff Center for matches tomorrow and Saturday against UC Santa Barbara.

MPSF Volleyball

Who: No. 5 UC Santa Barbara (13-9, 11-5) at No. 6 Hawaii (15-6, 11-5)

When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

TV: Live both nights, KFVE (Ch. 5)

Radio: Live on Saturday only, KKEA (1420-AM)

Tickets: $3-14

Hawaii would like nothing more than to leave again on Tuesday with two wins over the Gauchos, having moved closer to clinching a top-four seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. Sweeping the series with UCSB would go a long way toward keeping Hawaii at home for the April 23 MPSF quarterfinal.

It's the same scenario for the Gauchos, who are tied with the Warriors for third at 11-5.

There's a lot on the line with six matches left for each in the regular season. Hawaii finishes out with two at Long Beach State and is then home for two against Pacific; UCSB hosts UC Irvine, is at UCLA, then is home against Pepperdine and USC.

Neither route is easy.

"I wouldn't mind going 6-0 -- it would be a nice way to go into the playoffs," Hawaii junior outside hitter Matt Bender said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we did, but we've got to come out and play hard every night. It will take a lot of hard work."

Bender may or may not be back in the starting lineup, having missed the last two matches while recuperating from an illness. The Warriors have tinkered with the lineup, moving senior hitter Pedro Azenha around from opposite to left-side, while also using juniors Jose Delgado and Matt Carere, sophomore Lauri Hakala and freshman Jake Schkud on the outside.

"We're so incredibly deep, I'm not worried about who will be out there," Bender said. "Everyone has faith in each other to do the job."

It will take a group effort to stop one of the best opposites in the country in the Gauchos' Evan Patak. The 6-foot-8 sophomore All-American leads the country in kills (5.71 kpg) and points (6.57 ppg).

Patak, who set a rally score-era record for kills with 48 earlier this year against Stanford, needs just four kills to surpass last year's total of 432. He also has 42 aces, second-best in the county.

The Gauchos are more than just Patak. They also feature two 6-7 middles in freshman Theo Brunner and senior Michael Kennedy, as well as All-MPSF libero Aaron Mansfield.

Hawaii has two transfers from UCSB who are looking forward to the matches -- junior libero Alfred Reft and Schkud, the latter who redshirted for the Gauchos last season.

"It's not so much a proving yourself thing against your old team," Reft said. "Now it's more for our position in the standings. I just what to win, regardless of who we play ... but there is a little more to it because it is UCSB."

"They're all great guys," Schkud said of his former teammates. "And I know you don't want to serve Mansfield. He's one of the best pure passers I've seen.

"We just need to play our game, hopefully win the next six, and steamroll into the playoffs."

Hawaii coach Mike Wilton hopes the steamrolling began last week with the two wins at UC San Diego.

"We need to continue to play with confidence," he said. "We want to stay in the top four and stay home for that first round."

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