Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Warrior volleyball ready to improve

Despite losing 6 seniors, UH begins practice with stars Umlauft and Walker

By Cindy Luis


The perfect storm? The success that the Hawaii men's volleyball team had last season may have seemed like it.

The Warriors responded to a new coaching staff, led by Charlie Wade, and the addition of freshman opposite Jonas Umlauft -- an impact player along the lines of Yuval Katz and Costas Theocharidis -- with their first conference playoff win since 2003. Hawaii finished 19-10, falling to eventual NCAA champion Stanford in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament semifinal.

The Warriors are out to prove that the success was no fluke, starting with their first official team practice today in Gym I. Hawaii did lose six seniors -- including middles Matt Rawson and Steven Grgas, and All-MPSF libero Ric Cervantes -- but the cupboard is hardly bare.

Back are All-Americans Umlauft -- the AVCA newcomer of the year -- and Joshua Walker, a senior hitter, as well as senior setter Nejc Zemljak. Also among the returnees are senior hitter/middle Brennon Dyer and explosive junior hitter Steven Hunt.

"We feel good about the returning group of guys, especially our seniors, who are all good volleyball players, good guys and good students," associate coach Dan Fisher said. "Jonas made great strides last year, and if he makes the same rate of improvement ... that's a scary thought.

"People will be gunning for us this year. We'll still be playing with a chip on our shoulders. We need to prove that we are as good as we think we can be."

The biggest question marks will be at middle and libero. Two freshmen could end up starting in the middle: 6-foot-8 Shane Popelka and 6-9 Shane Welch. The Warriors also added some height on the outside with 6-5 Scott Hartley.

Among the half-dozen prospects at libero are three who were considered the best in the junior college ranks last season: 6-1 Harrison Phelps (Orange Coast College), 5-10 Troy Crutchfield (Long Beach City) and Assets School product Nick Castello (Irvine Valley), the latter the Pacific Coast Conference player of the year last season.

The Warriors also added two to the coaching staff in assistant Jeff Hall and graduate assistant Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, a former Rainbow Wahine All-American and three-time Olympic setter.

Through attrition and cuts, the Warriors are down to 23 players from more than 30 who tried out. One player no longer on the roster is hitter Gus Tuaniga, who did not return to school.

The fall season will include a competition trip to Canada.

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