UH's Zemljak set to go


POSTED: Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What's the one thing that makes a setter in volleyball happy? Running the offense instead of running down errant passes.

And heading into tomorrow's season opener, Nejc Zemljak is one happy setter. The junior for 12th-ranked Hawaii knows his team's passing is very much improved, a skill the Warriors have worked on for countless hours during the fall and the days leading up to this week's 16th Outrigger Hotels Invitational.

It's not the only secret that will be out of the bag by the end of the three-day event. The other?

The Warriors.

“;I think we're the best-kept secret in the volleyball community right now,”; Zemljak said. “;I honestly think we will surprise everyone.

“;No one knows what to expect from us. We are the underdog. But if they think we're the same as last year because we have the same players as last year ... we will prove we are not the same.”;

That includes Zemljak, a Slovenian national who shared duties the past two seasons with Sean Carney (graduated). Under the tutelage of two former all-conference setters—new associate coach Dan Fisher (Pacific) and new director of volleyball operations Brian Beckwith (Hawaii)—Zemljak's technique and location is matching his building confidence.





        » What: Men's volleyball tournament

        » Where: Stan Sheriff Center

        » Tomorrow: No. 1 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State, 4 p.m.; No. 10 Ohio State at No. 12 Hawaii, 7 p.m.

        » Friday: Ohio State vs. USC, 4 p.m.; Penn State at Hawaii, 7 p.m.

        » Saturday: Ohio State vs. Penn State, 4 p.m.; USC at Hawaii, 7 p.m.

        » Radio: UH matches, KKEA, 1420-AM

        » TV: All matches, KFVE (Ch. 5)

“;We've been working on two parts with him,”; Fisher said. “;Tactically, he's made tremendous strides. He's bringing his hands up quicker, has a faster release and, most important, he is being more consistent with his location.

“;The other part is the leadership aspect. He is definitely a court leader. We need him to be more of a vocal leader and he's grown in that regard.”;

“;There's a different style in Europe and we tend to have a faster offense in America,”; Beckwith added. “;Our passing is much improved and it allows more freedom because there is no bad option. It makes the game more fun for him when he can run the offense instead of playing fetch.”;

Zemljak said the environment for the setters—including Sam Morehouse, his biggest competition—has been a good one. He's also enjoying the different energy infused by new head coach Charlie Wade and staff.

“;There's a lot of positive things going on and we're working on getting better every day,”; Zemljak said. “;One of the things we've been missing is running the middle (attack) better. I don't know what happened, it could have been the passing, it could have been the poor decision-making I made. It's something we're working on.

“;We're still intense, but there's a focus on positive energy, confidence in our skills and our mental game.”;

The mental aspect comes courtesy of the relationship that both Wade and Fisher nurtured while at Pacific with UOP professor of sports sciences emeritus, Dr. Glen Albaugh. The Warriors have received chapters from Albaugh's book “;Winning the Battle Within”; and “;it's something that both Coach Wade and I feel passionate about,”; Fisher said. “;The one (last week) was 'Choosing to be Confident.' Psychology has been a neglected part of sports. You need to train the mind as well as the body. We're happy that the guys have bought into what we want. They've done what we've asked. They want to win.”;

That's something the Warriors haven't done lately. Hawaii was a combined 20-34 the past two seasons, not making the conference tournament both years.

“;This season, we have a tremendous hitter on the right side (freshman Jonas Umlauft) to balance what we have on the left and in the middle,”; Zemljak said. “;I like a lot of things about our team right now. Everyone plays better when they're happy.”;