Hawaii 1 of many
seeking home playoff

Just one match separates the
teams that are third through
sixth in the MPSF standings

The horse race that is known as the MPSF Volleyball Derby is in the home stretch with six teams jockeying over the next two weeks to host a league playoff match.

Hawaii at
Long Beach State

All times Hawaii time

When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m.; Friday, 4:35 p.m.
TV: Tomorrow's match live, OC 16
Radio: Both matches live, KKEA (1420-AM)
Series: Hawaii leads 28-27 but trails 13-10 at Long Beach

Two -- Pepperdine and UCLA -- remain in contention to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title and have a bye into the tournament semifinals. The only given is that Pepperdine, with two matches remaining, can finish no lower than second.

Currently, one match separates the teams that are third through sixth in the standings: Hawaii and UC Santa Barbara at 12-6, Long Beach State and Brigham Young at 11-7. Only two will be at home for the April 23 first-round match. The other two have the unenviable challenge of being on the road for three straight weeks if they want to win the NCAA championship.

The playoff scenario permutations seemingly are more complicated than the Erdos-Szekeres Theorem. However, in the case of the sixth-ranked Warriors, the equation can be broken down to two words:

Just win.

Hawaii needs to win three of its last four matches in order to stay home for a first-round playoff. The challenge begins tomorrow when the Warriors open a two-match series at surging Long Beach State.

The 49ers have won eight of their last nine, including an impressive sweep of then-No. 1 Pepperdine last week in front of a season-high 1,200 fans at The Pyramid. It helped Long Beach setter Tyler Hildebrand be named national player of the week. He had 43 assists and had the 49ers hitting .420.

Hawaii has a few things with which to be concerned, including how well the Beach plays at home. The 49ers are 11-1 at The Pyramid, the only loss coming in four against UC Santa Barbara.

"They're real hot right now," Warrior coach Mike Wilton said prior to his team's practice at The Pyramid last night. "They are playing their best volleyball right now.

"I reiterate that we have a really good team as well. But we have lost our way a little bit. We need to take care of some individual things, keep our batteries fully charged and work on our collective confidence."

Wilton is concerned about how the Warriors lost to UCSB last Saturday. Hawaii jumped out to a 5-0 lead in Game 5 against the Gauchos, only to lose 18-16.

"At that point, I think the guys started playing not to lose while Santa Barbara began playing to win," Wilton said. "That's something we as coaches have to help them change."

UH is also still seeking consistency in its second outside hitter spot where the revolving door has included Jose Delgado, Lauri Hakala, Matt Carere and Jake Schkud. Tomorrow's starter will be determined by practices last night and today.

The 49ers went through their growing pains early in the season. Their "lost weekend" came in late February as the 49ers stumbled on the road at Pacific and Stanford, both 3-0.

Since then, Long Beach has been able to pull itself out of holes and are 5-2 in five-game matches. The 49ers were down 0-2 at UC San Diego and won in five, and were down 1-2 to Cal Baptist and ended up winning in five.

Long Beach finishes the regular season next week hosting UCLA and then traveling to UC Irvine. And, just like the other horses in this playoff-hosting race, the 49ers' fate is riding on the next four matches.

"The last couple of years, it's gone down to the last night as to who makes the playoffs and who is hosting," 49ers coach Alan Knipe said. "It's no different this year and this year is crazy. You never know what's going to happen anywhere on any night.

"We're expecting two great matches with Hawaii this week and we're not talking about any match other than Thursday. The light went on for our team after that trip (at Stanford and Pacific). We know we have to play as hard as we can all the time and stay focused.

"Of course, our goal is to play at home that first night. I'm not the type of coach who knows how many we have to win to do that. We just need to continue playing our best because the only thing we can control is the next match."

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