comscore Speed Kills

Speed Kills

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    Hawaii's Shane Welch took aim at a set offered by Nejc Zemljak yesterday at practice.

Buckle up, folks, Hawaii men’s volleyball is about to get faster — and not just because the first four sets of each match will be played to 25 points instead of 30 this year.

The Warriors vowed to unveil an accelerated offense when they open their season against Ball State tonight in the Outrigger Invitational at the Stan Sheriff Center. UCLA and Penn State meet at 4 p.m., with the UH match to start at 7.

"We’re trying to speed it up," said setter Nejc Zemljak, a fifth-year senior. "We think that will make it a little tougher on our opponents. We’ll see how it works."

The strategy was popularized by Stanford, which used a quick attack to win the 2010 NCAA championship. The thinking is quicker and lower sets to the pins will be troublesome for opposing middle blockers to defend.


Outrigger Hotels Invitational

» Today: No. 8 UCLA vs. No. 10 Penn State, 4 p.m.; No. 14 Ball State vs. No. 5 Hawaii, 7 p.m.

» Where: Stan Sheriff Center

» TV: All matches on KFVE

» Radio: Hawaii matches on KKEA, 1420-AM

"I think a quicker offense will help us hit at a higher percentage," said opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft, who hopes to face more single blocks. "It gives more opportunities to the offensive players. That’s just basically the volleyball trend. We’re following that."

To the Warriors’ advantage is Zemljak’s experience — he started the past two seasons — and the athletic ability of the two primary corner attackers, Umlauft and left-side hitter Joshua Walker.

"Look at the guy," head coach Charlie Wade said, pointing at Walker. "He has a fast jump and a fast arm. He wants to go fast all of the time."

Walker is 6 feet 1, but has a vertical jump of 44 inches and can touch 11 feet 7. His serves have been electronically timed at up to 74 mph.

Umlauft, who is 6-9, has long strides and can hit off a two-step approach. His willingness to power past blocks has led to Wade’s cautioning: Don’t always be so ‘terminal.’ " Translation: Sometimes it is better to mix in an off-speed shot.

The Warriors acknowledge the quick offense relies heavily on the primary passers. For the first time in five seasons, the libero will not be Ric Cervantes, who completed his UH eligibility last spring. Nick Castello, a transfer, is expected to start at libero tonight.

The other drawback is that a quick set is an all-in tactic. There is not enough time to mull multiple hitting options.

"It’s a sliding scale of how effective you are at it," said Wade, adding the Warriors are not locked into one strategy. "You see some teams that are just dead set on running it fast to a fault. … We want to try to maintain a level of efficiency."

When in doubt, Wade said, the most practical choice is to "jack it up there so (Walker or Umlauft) can go bang it."

The Warriors also will be going with two new starters in the middle — senior Brennon Dyer and freshman Shane Welch.

Ball State has experience in the middle (seniors J.D. Gasparovic and Anders Nelson), and power at the corners (6-8 Lee Meyer on the left and Dominic Spadavecchio at opposite).

But the Cardinals will be going with freshmen at the first two parts of their offense — libero Tommy Rouse and setter Graham McIlvaine.

Rouse is 5-8, but active.

"Balls that to go his area of the court tend to go to target," coach Joel Walton said of Rouse.

McIlvaine won the three-way battle at setter with impressive play during fall training camp.

"He’s 6-6, left-handed, and locates the ball well," Walton said.


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