Defending national champ Penn State headlines Outrigger volleyball tourney


POSTED: Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The season of redemption starts tomorrow.

The Hawaii men's volleyball team has looked in the mirror the past eight months, not particularly caring for its collective reflection.




Outrigger Invitational at Stan Sheriff Center, Tomorrow: No. 10 Ohio State at No. 13 Hawaii, 7 p.m.; Friday: USC at Hawaii, 7 p.m.; Saturday: Penn State at Hawaii, 7 p.m.; TV: UH matches, KFVE (Ch. 5) Radio: UH matches, KKEA 1420-AM


There were excuses - legitimate and otherwise - for the Warriors' dismal performance of 2008, an 11-16 finish that was one of the poorest in the program's history. Hawaii hopes two of the problems - passing and health - are things of the past beginning with the 15th Outrigger Hotels Invitational.

“;I think a lot of teams aren't expecting much from us, don't respect us as much,”; junior middle Matt Rawson, back off shoulder surgery, said. “;But we know what we can do.”;

No. 13 Hawaii can prove that beginning with its match tomorrow against No. 10 Ohio State. The trial by fire for the fairly young Warriors continues Friday with vastly improved USC, ranked No. 7, and then Saturday with defending NCAA champion and top-ranked Penn State.

“;This tournament basically sets up the level we'll have to play at this season,”; UH sophomore hitter Joshua Walker said. “;Between this week and next week (the league opener against No. 3 Pepperdine), we can make a big statement.”;

A look at the tournament teams, with preseason ranking (2008 record in parenthesis):

  No. 13. Hawaii (11-16)

The Warriors lost only one senior (Jake Schkud) from a team that missed the playoffs for only the second time in coach Mike Wilton's 15 years. But nine other names from last year's roster and several from fall - mostly freshmen walk-ons and redshirts - are also missing for reasons ranging from academics to personal. Most notable are redshirt freshman setter Sam Morehouse and junior hitter Matias Brizuela, who have returned home to California and Paraguay.

Thanks to improved passing, the experiment of moving Sean Carney from setter to outside hitter is over. The senior is back in the spot where he led 'Iolani to a state title in 2003.

Also back from injury are Rawson and senior hitter Jim Clar. The pair missed parts of last season with shoulder injuries; Clar was UH's leading attacker (3.77 kps) and Rawson (1.35 bps) second in blocks when they were sidelined.

Anchoring Hawaii's defense is junior libero Ric Cervantes, who led the country in digs (3.32 dps). UH has good height in the middle; besides the 6-foot-8 Rawson, back is junior Steven Grgas (6-7), the team block leader last season, and redshirt freshman Jarrod Lofy (6-9).

The Warriors offense should be dynamic but young. Freshmen hitters Gus Tuaniga and Steven Hunt are expected to join Walker in tomorrow's starting lineup.

  No. 1. Penn State (30-1)

The Nittany Lions have competed in all 14 of the previous tournaments, and used their first Outrigger title as a springboard to the NCAA championship.

Five starters return from the Penn State team that lost only to Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association rival George Mason en route to the program's national title. Gone are senior setter Luke Murray (graduation) and All-American hitter Matt Anderson (pro career), the MVP of the Outrigger and NCAA tournaments.

Coach Mark Pavlik has plenty of options to fill Anderson's spot, including redshirt freshman Joe Sunder, a member of the U.S. Junior national team, and Will Price, a redshirt junior transfer who was the EIVA Newcomer of the Year as a freshman at George Mason.

The early nod at setter goes to redshirt freshman Edgardo Goas, the captain of the Puerto Rican Junior National Team. Pushing him is true freshman Tor Covello.

  No. 7. USC (13-16)

The Trojans are making their Outrigger debut with their second trip to Hawaii in three months. During the preseason, USC went 4-0 to capture the Can-Am Challenge in Alberta, Canada, and earned the Hawaii Fall Tournament title.

  While the Trojans lost a trio of four-year starters from last season, coach Bill Ferguson begins his third season with a lot of talent and promise. Among the 15 returnees are sophomore middle Murphy Troy, an honorable mention All-American, who led the team in aces (35) as a freshman, and sophomore setter Riley McKibbin (Punahou '07), the MVP of the Can-Am Challenge.

Expecting to challenge for a starting outside spot is sophomore Tri Bourne (Academy of the Pacific '07), who has been troubled with back problems. Also in the mix is true freshman Tony Ciarelli, a hitter with impressive genes; both parents played collegiately, dad Rocky at Long Beach State and mom Cammy Chalmers at UCLA.

  No. 10. Ohio State (28-8)

The Buckeyes, who lost to the Nittany Lions in the NCAA semifinals, are in the Outrigger for the second time. They went 2-1 in 2006, losing to eventual champion Hawaii.

Named to the All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association preseason team were senior hitter Robbie Klein and senior middle Ben Spurlock, two of Ohio State's four returning starters. Klein is fourth in career aces and 11th in career kills.

Also back is senior middle John Albertson, 14th in career blocks.

Coach Pete Hanson (477-263) returns for his 25th season. His best finish nationally was in 2000, when the Buckeyes lost to UCLA for the NCAA title.