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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Warriors sweep BYU in volleyball

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.com Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawai'i's Steven Grgas attempts to get a shot past BYU's Russell Lavaja in the second set.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawaii’s Matt “Dragon” Rawson fires away against Brigham Young.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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For the Hawai'i volleyball team, happiness is disruptive serving, glitch-free passing and a statement-making 30-27, 30-26, 30-25 rout of Brigham Young last night.

A general-admission crowd of 1,084 in the Stan Sheriff Center watched the Warriors complete the two-match sweep and ascend into a fourth-place tie in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The Warriors are 10-5 overall and 6-4 in the MPSF, matching last season's total for league victories.

"You go back to the beginning," said Charlie Wade, who was hired as UH's head coach in June, "and we think we've closed the gap on the (MPSF) field. We're trying to take it one match at a time. Every league win is significant."

The rematch was originally scheduled for Saturday on Maui. But the tsunami warning forced the postponement. BYU, which is administered by the Mormon Church, has a policy that does not allow it to compete in sporting events on Sundays, extending the makeup date to yesterday.

The Warriors, who practiced Sunday morning, were sharp in the crucial serve-and-pass phases.

The Warriors had six aces, and committed eight errors in 88 serves.

"We're putting it in play 90 percent of the time," Wade said. "We're putting pressure on them and it's not like everyone is serving a lollipop. We're serving tough."

And productively.

The Warriors scored 33 points on their serves, including 10 when setter Nejc Zemljak initiated plays.

"Nejc continues to be a real force from the service line," Wade said. "I think the entire team is serving good. We're kind of identifying how each person can best create point-scoring opportunities. Nejc does that with his serves."

Zemljak admittedly struggled with his aim in the first set, largely because of his inconsistent toss.

"I tried to get the feel back, and I did," said Zemljak, who finished with three aces. "Dragon (Mark Rawson) was huge up there. He helped a lot."

When Zemljak is serving, the Warriors' best jumpers — middle blocker Rawson, left-side hitter Joshua Walker and 6-foot-9 opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft — are in the front row. Zemljak said the trio create a towering block, easing the pressure on his serves.

Meanwhile Zemljak has parlayed accurate passes into hittable sets for Walker, Umlauft and left-side hitter Steven Hunt.

In Friday's match, the Warriors did not commit a service error. Last night, they had one in 64 serves. In the series, the Warriors successfully passed 99.4 percent of BYU's serves (161 of 162).

"We've had guys really working hard on individual skills," Wade said. "That's really helping the team."

Hunt, it seems, has made the most gains. As a freshman last year, he struggled to meet his own high expectations. After a miscue during a match last year, he struck a chair in self-anger, suffering a hand injury that kept him out of the lineup for more than a month.

But this season, Hunt is playing with controlled passion —key, because as a primary passer, he is required to be steady.

"We know he can play," Zemljak said. "He has all of the skills."

Now, Hunt is a triple threat as a passer, server and hitter.

"I know I needed to focus on my role on the team," Hunt said. "It's not to be a go-to hitter all of the time. I have to pass good, and help our team make plays."

Hunt put down 15 kills, produced six digs and received 14 serves without an error.

"He's doing a nice job," Wade said. "He's playing within himself."

Hunt also is sporting the new team look: a smile.

"For sure, I'm having more fun," Hunt said. "Our whole team is having way more fun. We're actually a team this year. Everybody can trust everybody. Whether you're a starter or you come off the bench, you have a role."

Zemljak said: "It's our whole mentality and energy. Once you're fully into it, it's easier to have fun."

The Cougars, meanwhile, depart the islands this morning acknowledging that their magnificent block and defense — they led the MPSF in rejections and digs — is not as effective if they cannot serve an opponent out of system.

The Warriors finished with a 41-33 advantage in digs.

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