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MPSF VolleyballWho: No. 13 Pacific (12-16, 6-14) at No. 5 Hawaii (17-8, 13-7)
When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Both matches live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
It's taken three years, two suspensions, even a few days of quitting the team over lack of playing time, to get to where he wants to be. Three weeks after his 24th birthday, Azenha has more than earned the trust of his UH teammates and coaches.
"This year, I feel that I've grown up on some levels," said Azenha as he prepared for his final two regular-season home matches tonight and tomorrow against Pacific. "I feel that I have learned how to lead this team, that they are trusting me now.
"I have learned to communicate better. There were times (in the past) where I am thinking I am the most experienced player and I try to tell people what to do. Some of them got offended. I wanted to lead the team, but I had to learn how to have the right approach. I had to learn that it is different here than what I was used to."
Azenha grew up in Brazil, where life seemed to be larger and louder and not as subtle as Hawaii. His confidence earned from being on the Brazilian teams that won world titles at the under-17 and under-20 championships could be mistaken for arrogance, his moodiness a distraction, his fiery behavior sometimes a little over the top.
But where he once would argue a call ... and argue ... and argue, then let it linger in his mind for the next few plays, Azenha has learned to let it go and play on.
"He's become a leader," Warrior associate coach Tino Reyes said. "He's calmed down, taken a lot of the responsibility for the team if we're not doing well. That's a real refreshing trait for him.
"There was never a question about his work ethic. He's always lifting, does the extra things to make himself into the player he is. But this year, the changes he's made ... it's so noticeable. In a way, it's almost sweet."
There is a softer side to Azenha that only his close friends see. One minute, he's entertaining them on his guitar with a rendition of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," the next he's feeding them chicken stir fry.
The All-American Azenha is humbled by all the attention surrounding tomorrow's senior night for him and reserve setter Daniel Rasay.
"I'm feeling very special right now," he said. "I'm trying not to think about it. It will be sad, but I know it will be a beautiful night.
"I'm trying to get focused on the games. I hope it will be a good crowd. I hope we win."
Winning was what attracted Azenha to the program. The Warriors had just captured the 2002 NCAA title when Azenha sent a tape to the UH coaches.
"I'm very competitive and didn't want to go anywhere just to play," he said. "I knew they had won the championship and that they had the best attendance. I had never played in front of that many people.
"I didn't know much about Hawaii but ... it's Hawaii. But my main reason to come to America was not to play volleyball -- it was to get a degree. I'm not a brilliant student -- I am kind of lazy -- but my main concern is to graduate."
The journalism major expects to graduate next spring and eventually follow his mother, Roseli Galleti, a former news anchor turned award-winning director/producer, into the broadcast field. There are thoughts of playing professionally, too, before he has to get "a real job."
How Azenha has improved his game this season will help his pro marketability. He's always been a banger, and it's no surprise that he leads the Warriors in kills (413) and aces (42).
He is second in UH career service aces with 111 in three seasons and, with at least three matches to go this year, is just 11 aces from passing four-time All-American Costas Theocharidis.
But this season he made a commitment to defense. He leads Hawaii in blocks (60) and is second in digs (103).
"Attitude-wise, he's made a heck of a turnaround, looking more outside himself and becoming more concerned with those around him," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "He's improved his overall game. When he first came, I didn't like the idea of him passing a ball. On defense, he was a black hole. He's become a very nice passer, his blocking has improved and he's a smarter hitter.
"And he's got a serve that can wreak havoc. The other teams have to pay a lot of attention to him."
Last Friday, Long Beach State saw way too much of Azenha, particularly at the end of Game 1. The 49ers had game point at 29-28, only to see the Warriors go on a 3-0 run to pull it out.
The final two points came when Hawaii stuffed the 49ers' top hitter, 6-foot-6 Robert Tarr. The 6-5 Azenha teamed with 6-8 Kyle Klinger for a 30-29 lead and then Azenha had a solo block of Tarr to win it.
"Poor Tarr, he got roofed straight down," said Warrior junior hitter Jose Delgado. "After that last block, Pedro looked at me and I yelled back, 'Yay, Pedro.' It was great.
"Before the game, Pedro told me, 'I feel good. This is going to be a big game for us. I am going to give it all that I have.' He's been there for us whenever we've needed him."
Azenha has been a target for opposing fans on the road. The gyms have echoed with chants of "Pe-dro, Pe-dro" when Azenha has gone back to serve.
He has chosen to let his actions speak louder than words.
"It just fires him up," Delgado said. "His answer is, 'Fine, I'm going to ace you, I'll roof you, I'll bang the ball.'
"He's my best friend in Hawaii and I'm going to miss him a lot. I have learned a lot of volleyball from him. I'll miss him on the court next year."
"He's one of the best players I've ever seen," UH junior hitter Matt Bender said. "When you play with somebody who's really good, you learn how to do things you didn't know before. I keep learning from him.
"He's always been a really good player, but the really great players keep improving. Pedro has done that this year, pretty much improved all the way around. He's a little wiser, a little calmer, and even better."
Azenha would like to think so. More than being a statistical leader, he's worked hard at being a team leader.
"I've made my mistakes, been frustrated, done things without thinking about the consequences," he said. "But coming here, living on my own for the first time, it's been a very good experience for me.
"Right now, I'm very happy with my life and my team. We are very confident. We're feeling good about the playoffs."
The ultimate goal is to be playing in the national final on May 7.
But, as Azenha has come to learn, it hasn't been about the destination. It's been about the journey.
Note:Fourth-ranked Long Beach State upset No. 1 UCLA last night, 30-27, 24-30, 31-29, 31-29, in front of 1,886 fans, the sixth-largest crowd in 49er history.
The loss by UCLA gives the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title to Pepperdine. The Waves will have a first-round bye and then host the MPSF Tournament semifinals and final, April 28 and 30. The Bruins will finish second in the conference and host the winner of the play-in game between the Nos. 7 and 8 teams.
The 49ers, at 13-8, are in fifth, with UC Santa Barbara in sixth at 12-9 with one match remaining. Hawaii and Brigham Young share third at 13-7 with two matches left.
Kamana'o was the national freshman of the year in 2003 and a first-team All-America selection this past season. Ah Mow-Santos (1993-96) was a two-time All-America selection and a two-time Olympian (2000-04). Villaroman (2000-03) was a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference libero.
Also selected was former Minnesota setter Lindsey Berg, a Punahou graduate and 2004 Olympian. Heather Bown, former UH All-America middle blocker and two-time Olympian, has decided to take a break from the national team but is expected to return.
Team USA will have two entries in the USAV Open championships in Denver, May 28-June 4. Other competitions include the Montreux Volley Masters in Switzerland, the Pan American Cup in the Dominican Republic and the World Grand Prix in Asia.