Sunday, April 29, 2007

What a Season!

Quickly, the conference champions:
MIVA: Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW)
EIVA: Penn State
MPSF: UC Irvine (UCI)

Yes, that's right, UCI beat out heavy favorite Pepperdine in a full-drive close-cut 5-game match. They tested each other's limits down to the wire. The deciding 5th game went into extra play, 16-14 Irvine.

What a season it has been. With 12 very good teams in the MPSF, 10 that tend to be ranked nationally every week, it's unusual that any team would dominate a single season. Pepperdine started the preseason at 5, then climbed their way to #1, holding that top spot mid-Feb to the end of the season. UCI dominated as well, starting at #1, dropping to #2 at the end of Jan, tying for third one week in Feb, then holding at 2 for the next 7 weeks, dropping to 3rd only at the end of the season. BYU has been a rather solid #3.

Preseason, I had a feeling that UCI would be in the NCAA playoffs. I still full-heartedly cheered on my team, the early-season-ailing Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, but there was no denying that UCI has a good team.

Hey, they beat my Warriors in the MPSF Playoffs, but man, did we make sure they earned it. For a second, with the Warriors clearly taking the 1st 2 games, it looked like UH would be on their way to a national title again. I would say, it's not so bad when we took the now-MPSF champs to 5-games in the playoffs.

Warriors started preseason at 4, and really during this tough season for them, I thought of any team, this team could pull off an upset and take the national title, and done it better than the crazy tirade UCLA went on late last year for the title.

Losing 5 great seniors last year, we had solid leadership at all key positions in this year's seniors: Beckwith (setting), Dante (blocking), Kalima (passing/digs), and Hakala (kills). Even the untested freshmen, especially in the second half of the season, made incredible strides, greatly contributing in their positions to the blocking (Rawson), the hitting (Vanzant), and at passing and digging (Cervantes).

Next year, I can see Carney picking up the setting smoothly, he's already had some good experience, though the coaches say they might use him at outside hitter. Clar could definitely fill in at opposite (Hakala's vacated spot). Rawson needs to work on being patient at the net, not over-reaching. If Vanzant can improve on hitting accuracy, he'll be that more effective. Everyone needs to practice their serving and passing, that's important every year, all the time. Also important is being able to read the other team, see the blocks, see if the opponent had a good approach for the swing, etc. I'm looking forward to seeing how Schkud improves so that he gets a permanent starting spot; I don't think we've seen all he's capable of yet. We're gonna have the youngest team we've had in a while, but it's gonna be worth watching the next two seasons.

Next Up: The NCAA semis onto the finals. 2nd seeded UCI vs. 3rd seeded Penn State, 1st seed Pepperdine vs. 4th seed IPFW.

Congratulations to UCI for their first MPSF title, how do they get seeded 2nd under Pepperdine?

And a huge aloha-filled mahalo to the 2007 Warriors for another exciting season!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech: All I know to do is to pray for them. I don't know why I felt so affected by that event, not that it wasn't tragic or significant, but unlike for other events around the world, I found myself crying as I watched the news about VTech. I couldn't not cry and friends know that I show emotion very rarely.

Maybe it was because of the two that died in the dormitory. The dorm's a home away from home; it should be safe. Or maybe it was listening to the students talking about being in class or taking an exam when the guy just comes in and starts shooting. I can't imagine...and I don't know what I would've done in that situation.

But in a time when we seem to be the farthest apart from each other than we ever have been, even when sitting shoulder to shoulder on a bus or brushing shoulders in a crowded hallway, as sad as I felt watching the news the past few days I'm learning to focus on the positives, what few there were, of the tragedy. The stories of courage and bravery, of heroics in a time when we need heroes... truly uplifting.

We've heard of Prof. Liviu Librescu, Holocaust survivor, blocking the door with his life so that his students could escape; how often do we wonder if educators really care about their students and no doubt that he did. Other students also blocked doors and looked for other opportunities to help their classmates who were shot.

UH Security: I wouldn't feel safer with armed police on campus. Yes, in situations like VTech, time is very important. Other times, the sight of a gun or other weapon may exacerbate the situation, or entice someone to do a stupid thing. It would be impossible to post an armed guard at every classroom, or at every entrance, and even that would not guarantee every person's safety.

I do, however, have confidence in our guards and in our policemen. And hopefully we never have to test ourselves, but I would hope that in a time of need, of life or death, that we would rise up and protect each other.

As an aside regarding humanity, at times I worry that people from even just 5 years younger than me are...not well. It would take too much to explain exactly what I mean, but I would say, don't be discouraged about young people or write them off completely. Every so often I ride TheBus and I have to smile when a young person gives up their seat to the elderly or to a mother with her child. Not all do, and some are not so considerate, but let's take courage in those that do.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

And Dante Wins the Prize!

[continuation from previous post]

Warriors won and are play-off bound! Next up, Irvine @ Irvine...

JayLee and I at senior night Warrior volleyball (we also witnessed Fri's game). We got there about a 1/2 hour before first serve, the earliest I've ever been to a game. We got the team photo from the Stan Sheriff crew since we were so early (first 2,000 fans). Got to see some players change from their practice shirts to their game jerseys; the Card's Ceran's in good shape and that's all I'll say. I'm there for the volleyball...

I usually sit in the super-rooter section, near the "Aunties", a bunch of drunk-by-half-time college kids, and other loyal fans. I could see the flags this time and the Sheriff Center's got a clock, I didn't know that before. JayLee and I got tickets at the lower level this time, across from the benches, in the mix of the Beckwith, Schkud, and Kalima Ohana. If I had known earlier how much fun those families are, especially the Beckwiths, I would've sat there every time! Too bad he's graduating now and I'll hafta scope out for another fun ohana. I saw Johnny Matt Bender, former #13 UH Warrior and one of five seniors last year, in the stands with his girlfriend watching the current Warriors.

And Kalima fans all around. Shouts for Kalima came from the Ohana, from the left, from the right, from the top, from across the way... They've been cheering him on from his redshirt year 5 yrs. ago. "Put Eric in! We wanna see Kalima!" Well, they saw him this year! Propelling himself towards the ball no matter where it is, like a magnet, as only Kalima can!

The Beckwith crew were waving ti leaves, holding up clever signs, one dressed up as a Warrior with some boys in tow. They led cheers, also yelling out "unleash the dragon!" for Matt "Dragon" Rawson. We sat right in front of the "ICU @ UCI" and "Killer B (for Brian Beckwith)" signs. A few times, the exuberant ti leaf waving brushed my hair. The boys were heckling the Cards, a lady with them tried to get them to just cheer on the Warriors explaining that Hawai'i fans are respectful of all players.

Someone asked about Manoa, seeing it everywhere (it's the place name, campus name, like CS Fullerton, CS Northridge). Another person asked about why we cheer with "Let's go BOWS!" (a 3-count cheer) instead of their "Let's go Hawai-i" (in 4-counts)(The rainbow used to be the mascot of UH, recently changed to "Warriors" by football coach Jones, some call us "RainBOW Warriors"). "Let's go BOWS" is still my favorite. [I mention the Q's 'cuz I like it when people care to know].

JayLee and I indulged ourselves in the ever-ono garlic fries and Italian ices. Those ices are...*sigh* They taste just like the fruit their flavors say they are. Yeah, I could've just eaten a real fruit, but SO?!! Come on, I-TA-LI-AN.

Across the way, an elder lady sat in the stands, wearing a UH t-shirt... under a red sweater. The Cards colors are red and white. It's okay to be a local and root for the other team when there's a local boy on that team. If I knew him I would've just been bold like other Shoji fans and just wear all red. There was a man in our section who was wearing red, but held up a sign for the Warriors, I forget what it said.

Commentator Chris McLachlin said that Costas was the hardest hitting Warrior ever. Could be. My opinion is for Hakala. No argument that Costas was a great player with fear-inspiring, hard-hitting, tough-serving, consistent play and a mean bull-stare, but I do think Hakala hits harder. I have no proof or stats, but I've watched both play. When Hakala goes in for the kill, you see him lift-off, then you hear the *BOOM*, next thing you know Hakala's got the kill. Between Hakala's contact and the floor, or sometimes an unwilling opponent's face, the ball disappears. Even in slo-mo replay you can't see the ball. Both Costas and Hakala were great to watch, but I like Hakala's style. He might be a more intelligent player and he's definitely a physical player. He changes up his play more than I believe Costas did, making him more unpredictable. Those few games that he was injured and didn't play were a plus as he cheered on his team and was as involved as he could be. I would've liked to see him play here another year.

And okay, outside of volleyball that I love, I also like a man of languages. I would've liked to become an ambassador or a diplomat or just a translator for the government if I had the skills, but I guess other interests overrided those ideas also. I'm in my 4th year of trying to learn Russian on my own and I'm still at (in English spelling) "pazhalsta," "spaseeba," and "gdye vodka?" (please, thank you, and where is the vodka?). BKR's in CA for his doctorate and so once again, I have no one to practice Espanol with; I'm getting very rusty where the list of words/phrases I'm sure of is getting shorter and shorter. I need to live in CA for a few years again. Here's "por favor," "gracias," and "dos cervezas mas!" (please, thank you, and two beers more!). I really don't drink much at all, honest, just ask my friends. I have another favorite phase I was taught that starts with "quitate" but I won't say the whole thing here. Long and winding way to saying I admire (and am a little jealous of) Hakala for his ability to learn several different languages. Sometimes I'm thinking in English but spelling in Spanish, like "camara" instead of "camera".

Senior Festivities: Besides consistently being a good team, with good facilities, and great coaches, we could recruit just by our senior night celebrations. That did it for former Warrior Matt Carere several years ago; he caught senior night on TV in Canada by chance and thought it was something great. I bet some players from other teams check their schedules to see if they get to come to play in Hawai'i on our senior night; we also acknowledge their seniors and they usually have a good time too.

Hakala had a Finnish flag; they could've gotten a Hawaiian flag for Kalima and Dante and CA's flag for Brian. It would've been reminiscent of the four-flagged seniors from 2003, when there was a Greek flag for Costas, an Israel flag for Eyal, a Hawaiian flag for Tony "Tigah" Ching, and a WI flag for Brian Nordberg.

It's great to see the families of other teammates representing missing family members when that happens. Sean Carney's dad filled in honor for Hakala, and of course many others gave him lei also.

All 4 seniors got buried in lei. In introducing the Beckwith clan, so many of them were present that the announcer could only call out Brian's parents, his two brothers, and "almost the entire Beckwith Ohana!" Brian disappeared in the mountain of lei. Imagine if he had gone to a Hawai'i school and at his graduation...

And there was a collective "aww" from the female Dante fans when his girlfriend was introduced. Dante's got a good smile, I wasn't a part of that crowd, but I know a few who were...

NO DANCING this year!!! Boo! For their senior video, Brian, Dante, Kalima, and Hakala sang kah-rah-oh-kay (karaoke, hard "r" almost like an "l") to Lionel Richie's "All Night Long". It was great! Dante wins the prize as he got into character as a lounge singer. Gotta appreciate that!

[Images from Honolulu Advertiser and the Star Bulletin]

#10 UH vs. Stanford: Woohoo!!!

The numbers say it all.

Those are the stats [Courtesy of the Honolulu Advertiser] from last night's senior match between the UH Rainbow Warriors and the Stanford Cardinals.

Here's how the Warriors got there: People will say that the turnaround for the Warriors mid-season was the sweep of Cal State Northridge [CSUN]. I say it was the second match against Pepperdine[Pepp] who was and is still #1; the Warriors took the 1st game in a 4-game match loss to Pepp where they were breathing down Pepp's neck during games 3 and 4. It was then that the Warriors resembled the winning team we're used to seeing each year: tenacity, patience, and fun at every moment whether they're up or down.

Then the Warriors began a 6-match win streak all in sweeps (3-game wins) over CSUN, Lewis, and UCSD. The big test would come at the Walter Pyramid, home of the Long Beach 49ers where the then 13th Warriors took the 1st match against 9th LBSU in 5-games, having to win the 5th in extra-play, 19-17 (5th game is win-by-2, 1st to 15). For the 2nd match against LBSU, the Warriors improved by taking down the Beach in 4 games.

Then the Warriors came home to face the Cardinals, being led by the versatile local boy, son of Wahine Volleyball Coach Dave Shoji, the Freshman Kawika Shoji. The Warriors swept the Cardinals on Friday night, 30-22, 30-23, 30-22. The big section of Cardinal fans (a lot of locals out to see Shoji, understandable) weren't as loud as I was expecting them to be, and Shoji didn't bring the A-game that Stanford articles have been talking about. Who did give us trouble was the Card's #5, 6'6" (F) Evan Romero with 17 kills and no service errors.

On to last night's match, senior night for the Rainbow Warriors. I was in attendance with friend JayLee. It was...amazing! The Cardinals did their homework and came back with determination. The entire night was one big noise as 3,000+ fans cheered at practically every play during many long rallies with whole-hearted dives and saves by both teams. Up-official Ernie Ho took a "beating" himself as at least 3 of the Card's errant passes hit him; a dive over the Card bench by (I think it was) #5 Romero almost took out a laptop (being used by one of the asst. coaches); veteran Sportscaster Jim Leahey rescued Card's #11 Brian Lindberg from what could've been a fatal or career-ending dive over PressRow (there's a Senior showing the team how to do it, Kalima can appreciate). That's just from the Cards!

On the Warriors side, Carney brought in his steady serving with 4 in a row to help us on to closing game 1; one was a service ace. He came in for setting duties half-way through game 2 and did an excellent job of running the plays. There's practically no difference between Beckwith and Carney in terms of quality; it'll be exciting to see what Carney does next year. Vanzant got in on the action with 15 kills on the night with great sprinting to chase down the ball and bring it back into play; Dante up-front helped Vanzant from going under the net after a flight from the back row for a kill. Dante himself got 14 kills, 3 of them by being quick to swallow up over-passes by the Cards. Kalima hit a solid .231 and worked hard at the net with 1 solo block and 5 block assists. He even took a ball in the head on a valiant effort to pop-up it up Kalima-style, a scary moment for UH fans as it looked like his head had hit the floor instead of the ball.

Hakala unloaded the cannon on the Cards with 21 kills on the night, 2 aces, while also working his defense skills with 10 digs and 2 blocks. Hakala's mana got out-of-control on a couple long hits and serves, but I believe I heard some sighs of relief by the Cards who didn't want an extra bruising from having to dig another Hakala fireball. Maybe a few Somebodies woke up this morning with black and blue arms, screaming before realizing "oh, that's right, we played Hakala last night" [I'm joking, that's if it had been me, the Cards are tougher than that].

And what about Beckwith? How about giving his team a .356 kill %age, all of them hitting positive, 3 of them in double-digit kills (see Vanzant, Dante, and Hakala above) with Rawson just under at 9 kills. How about across-the-board action with 3 kills, 47 assists, 8 digs, 6 block assists and a tough jump-serve. How about chasing down a ball and bringing it back into play from outside the antenna for a Rawson kill to end game 1. And, with senior-night greed which he admitted to later, he closed out the match with a no-look dump-shot to remind everyone that not only does he put the ball up, he can knock it down too.

[to be continued]