Friday, February 15, 2008

A Volleyball Valentine for the Fans

Jim Clar gets a kill past Ratelle.
Another thriller from the Stan Sheriff Center, #15 UH battled #5 UCLA for a milestone moment and the right to send a valentine to their fans. A win for UH would bring home Coach Wilton’s 300th win while a win for UCLA would be Al Scates 50th win against UH.

UCLA’s starting lineup consisted of Ratelle, O’Malley, Muagututia, Diefenbach, Stromath, Hastings and Wade. They stepped onto the court without their captain, Tony Ker, as he heals from a hamstring injury. No injuries were reported for UH who started Clar, freshman Walker, lone senior Schkud, Grgas, Frank, Cervantes and Carney.

Lisa Strand-Ma‘a filled in as color commentator for the resting Chris McLachlin. Mclachlin, a prominent figure in Hawai‘i volleyball circles is recovering from a heart attack he suffered about 2 weeks ago. Get well soon, Chris!

Right away, UCLA didn’t look like the well-oiled machine that it usually is. Something was definitely lacking in the libero position as Hastings filled in for Ker. Hastings must be a good player to be the backup for Ker, but Ker has the experience and control that often keeps the UCLA team in the position to attack. Service errors also plagued the normally tough-serving UCLA team, about 10 in the first game alone. Yet in UCLA fashion, they came out with the win in game 1 with hard-hitting Muagututia and the towering O’Malley racking up the points. Game 1, UCLA 25-30.

Bad serving remained the bane of UCLA in game 2. By halftime, UCLA would have 18 service errors for the first two games while UH had about5. UH actually served a perfect game 1 with no errors. The record will show UH with 1 service error, but the replay video will show that the error should have been called a service ace by Jim Clar. The ball clearly hits inside of the back line, even it’s shadow was in the court. The up official didn’t see it because a UCLA player was in the way, but the line judge, I don’t know how he missed that call. It was deemed out, resulting in a UCLA point.

Back to game 2, UH quickly pulled ahead and held a lead of 3-5 points. Besides the service errors, UCLA played strong but with more broken plays and missed hits than is usually seen. Game 2 went the way of the Warriors, 30-26. In game 3, Scates began to work his mystique by bringing in Dunlap for Diefenbach but Dunlap wasn’t able to do much more than Diefenbach. More broken plays, Carney got an ace in, UH won 2 long rallies back to back with a huge block and a Schkud kill. UH maintained the lead the whole way. UCLA was called for several illegal back row attacks, mainly committed by Muagututia, if I recall correctly. Game 3 ended with a clean and quick Clar kill, UH 30-24.

Early in game 4, Jagd [pronounced ‘jade’?] came in for O’Malley. The substitution didn’t seem to do much for UCLA, at first, then I suppose Jagd got warmed up and started to fire up the UCLA team to get the first UCLA lead since game 1. Service errors still popped up, but not as frequently as in the first half and UH began to commit service errors themselves. Jagd, on his fresh legs and killer arm, led UCLA to win game 4 and force a game 5, UCLA 24-30.

But UH gained the lead in game 5 with a halfway score of 8-4. UCLA brought out Darwin Edwards who had played briefly in game 4, but Edwards didn’t add much to slow UH down. Muagututia and Jagd brought UCLA back to life with several definitive kills, tying the score at 11, taking the score at 12, UH came back at 13. I think it was another UCLA service error that made it 14-13 UH. It’s match point for UH, Scates calls a timeout, Grgas is up to serve for UH. Grgas isn’t a consistent or tough server. UCLA has the advantage in 5-game matches, so the match isn’t necessarily over for them. Grgas taps the serve over…the ball goes to Jagd for the kill…and Jagd doesn’t get the ball over! UH wins 15-13 and takes the match!

Overall it was a great match [detailed match stats]. Looking at the stats, it looks like UCLA won every statistic. I think UH won it with stable play and great blocks. To see so many service errors and illegal back row attacks and missed hits by UCLA was strange, it was not their normal game. I think a lot of it is missing what Ker brings to their game. Ker is a great libero who shows up out of nowhere to pick up their opponents’ attacks and direct the ball to their setter. O’Malley, Muagututia, Diefenbach, Wade, they’re all experienced game players, very good players, but I think that they missed having Ker out there.

Speaking of libero, UH’s Cervantes played a great match! 16 digs on the night, he was undaunted by the hard-hitting attacks of UCLA. He popped them up easily, sending the passes directly to Carney, made a great effort by standing in the way of an attack, letting it ultimately knock him off his feet. Cervantes’ play was akin to the Great Podlewski. Well, almost.

And Carney, the Warriors’ outright MVP of the match. 48 assists, 10 digs, 2 kills, 2 block assists and 2 service aces [I thought he had 3 aces, but the stats say 2]. Last night’s match showed why he was in contention for the starting setter position the last 2 years that had ultimately been kept and held by All-American Brian Beckwith.

Let me be girly and talk about Carney’s new ‘do for a second…in the past, Carney had consistently sported a long curly hairdo held back by a sweatband. He stepped onto the court tonight with a short almost-military ‘do. The big deal with Carney’s new look is that with the short hair and a similar height and build to that of Clar, it was difficult to tell Carney from Clar. Even for Leahey and Lisa Strand-Ma‘a, who were there to broadcast the game, they had a difficult time. There were a lot of long pauses as they checked the replay to say whether it was Clar or Carney with the kill or the block or the dig…all night long!

Another bright side for UH is Walker. He made some good plays, got some kills to the floor. However, he is a freshman and still needs to get his game legs under him. He was a little inconsistent, missed several serves, but I think he’s developing into a good player. He’ll have time to work those things out and improve.

As an aside, I mentioned that UCLA has a player named Darwin Edwards. Um, just hafta wonder about parents who would name their kid ‘Darwin’. I don’t know his parents, they’re probably very good people, maybe they named him after a relative and not after Charles Darwin… I guess it just stands out to me because I am a Christian, I don’t know. I’ve taken a course on evolution and read up on the topic, but that’s not for this entry.

And, you might recall two seasons ago when Warrior Jake Schkud sported an oddly shaven head…I didn’t think I’d see that again. He had kept the sides and balded the top in honor, or mockery, I don’t know, of the great Al Scates. The ‘do came back last night, this time manifesting on the head of Sam Morehouse. Um, I don’t have much more to say about it than it didn’t look as strange on Schkud for some reason, he looks kinda kolohe and maybe like it’s something he would do…um, okay…

So, tonight, REMATCH! Can UCLA find their serve and swerve? Can UH keep the same lineup and win two in a row from the powerhouse? Incidentally, UH didn’t substitute any players last night for more than a serve here and there. They didn’t really rest anyone from game 4 or game 5, a good sign. I’m sorry, scratch that, Frank was replaced by Rawson sometime in game 2 I think and he stayed through to the end.

This is where I say, ‘Tune in next time when we find out who will win the REMATCH!’ or something like that.

Mahalo for reading in!
[Pictures and short stats by Honolulu Advertiser].