UCLA thwarts UH again
• Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. UCLA volleyball Feb. 5
BY Stephen Tsai
For the Hawai'i volleyball team, the lesson of a 30-26, 23-30, 30-25, 30-28 loss was this: Being good is not always good enough.
Not against fourth-ranked UCLA, which had a go-to attacker (left-side hitter Garrett Muagututia), a scoring threat at each rotation turn and a stubborn streak to repel most every Warrior comeback.
"I'm pretty proud of our guys," said UH coach Charlie Wade, whose team fell to 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation after consecutive losses to the Bruins. "I thought we battled pretty good. We served in over 85 percent of the time (85.5), and we had a pretty good ace ratio (six in 110 serves). And we out-blocked them (9.0 to 7.5), which was good considering we were giving up 4 inches at every spot, or at least it felt like it. We battled, and the difference in the match was very small."
It came down to Muagututia's powerful accuracy — 25 kills and five errors in 42 swings — and a pair of middles who were a double-migraine from the front row and behind the service line.
In the third set, the Warriors scored five in a row — forcing the Bruins to burn two timeouts — to close to 20-19.
It was 21-20 when UCLA middle Thomas Amberg lasered back-to-back kills past solo blocks. Muagututia's ensuing ace and then Amberg's one-handed swat provided a 25-20 cushion the Bruins would not relinquish.
Opponents "have to honor the middles," UCLA coach Al Scates said. "We're going to pump the middles against anybody. (Thursday ) night they had two blockers on (each middle), and that opened up the outside. This time, they only had one blocker on our middle."
In the fourth set, the Warriors rallied to tie it at 21. But then Amberg sizzled an ace, and two of his tough serves led to Muagututia's roll shot and middle Nick Vogel's solo block.
Later, with UCLA leading 28-27, Vogel's strong serve set up a double-block on UH's Jonas Umlauflt.
"When you serve well like that, it really gets them out of system," Amberg said, "and we're able to get a double-block or triple-block on most of the sets."
Most teams require one of the middle blockers to float-serve. But Scates gave his blessing for Amberg and Vogel to jump serve.
"I just have them go for it," Scates said. "They'll make errors . But when we get (the serves) in, we score at a very high percentage. I tell all of my servers: 'If you make a good toss, hit it hard.'"
In the fourth set, the Bruins scored on five of Amberg's eight serves.
Scates also adjusted the rotation so setter Kevin Ker would always make the Bruins' first serve of every set. Scates even started that rotation in the fourth set despite that same matchup resulting in a one-sided loss in the second set.
"I wanted (Ker) to start serving, anyway," Scates said. "The problem is these (sets) were only going 18, 19 rotations. If I had him serve first, there was a chance he'd serve four times (in each set), and I wanted that."
The Bruins scored on nine of Ker's serves; he had three aces.
Ker, who is 6 feet 2, has a unique serving style in which he uses a speedy four-step approach. His serves are line drives that barely clear the tape.
"Years of practice," he said, smiling. "I just toss it low, and go as fast as I can. (The running start) just builds momentum. You hit the ball better that way."
UH libero Ric Cervantes said: "They're a real tough serving team. What can you say? In spurts, we passed really well. Then we got aced or it was a bad pass. We need consistency right now. We have to correct little technical things here and there. I think we'll be good as long as we put in the time and effort. I'm confident in this team. This is just a little bump in the road."