The Hawaii volleyball team controlled the serve-receive phase and then UC Santa Barbara for an 18-25, 25-22, 25-22, 27-25 victory last night in the Stan Sheriff Center.
A crowd of 1,734 watched the 10th-ranked Warriors rebound from the Gauchos’ blistering surge in the opening set to improve to 3-5 overall and 3-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
The Gauchos, ranked sixth, fell to 5-5 and 3-4.
The Warriors entered with a basic strategy: keep the serves away from Andy McGuire, a libero who spends his summers training with the U.S. national team. When the Gauchos can pass — and McGuire is one of the league’s best in that skill — they can run an all-points attack.
Of the Warriors’ 94 serves, 56 went to a passer other than McGuire, including aloha ball.
With the Warriors leading 26-25 and desperately seeking to avoid a fifth set — they are 0-3 in the tiebreaker set this season — setter Nejc Zemljak stepped to the service area, took his routine deep break, and fired a cross-court serve that zipped past outside hitter Jeff Menzel on the Gauchos’ right side.
"I think a lot of people are more into that moment, like it’s the last point," Zemljak said. "It’s like any other play. The first serve is worth one point. The last serve is worth one point. It’s all the same."
Although the Warriors were able to serve tough throughout the match, the Gauchos still managed to find setter Vince Devany, who was able to quick-feed the middles. Dylan Davis and Scott Slaughter combined for 22 kills on 32 quick sets to the middle. In contrast, the Warriors middles combined for 10 kills on 18 swings.
But in UH’s scheme, with pin hitters Joshua Walker and Jonas Umlauft providing the offensive power, the middles’ primary duty is to block. And Jarrod Lofy, who replaced freshman starter Shane Welch at the start of the third set, was a surprise obstacle in the fourth set.
Lofy and outside hitter Steven Hunt teamed on consecutive blocks to give the Warriors a 21-20 lead.
Later, at 23-21, Lofy was in the middle of a triple block.
"The coaches made a lot of good decisions," Lofy said. "They actually made the calls, and we executed them. They made the right decisions."
Menzel said the Warriors’ tough serving late in the match proved to be the difference.
"They served us off the court," Menzel said.
And the Gauchos aided in their woes, relinquishing 18 points on service errors. The Warriors committed 11 service errors and, more important, gave away only 12 points on attack mistakes. They hit .351 for the match.
Walker led the way with 18 kills. Umlauft added 16.
Opposite hitter Cullen Irons had a match-high 19 kills for the Gauchos, 10 launched from the back row.
The rematch is tonight, with the first serve at 7:10.
The Warriors had taken a 2-1 lead in sets by spreading their offense, Walker, who has a powerful swing and 44-inch vertical jump, found his groove on bics — quick back-row attacks off pipe sets — and Umlauft scored points on right-side attacks.
The Warriors evened the match at one set apiece, in large part to improved serving.
In the second set, the Warriors scored 11 points on their 25 serves, an accuracy of 44 percent; 35 percent is considered to be good.
Zemljak was particularly effective, with the Warriors scoring four points on his seven second-set serves. One of his serves, a dying-duck, landed untouched in front of the Gauchos’ back-row receivers.
The Warriors’ fortunes were decidedly different in the first set. They had jumped out to a 6-1 lead, but then had dificulty serving the Gauchos out of system.
From that point, the Gauchos connected on 17 of their 22 swings. They did not commit a hitting error during that stretch.
The Gauchos were effective from near and far. With accurate passing, they were able to involve Davis and Slaughter. They combined to hit perfectly in the first set, five kills in five swings.
The Gauchos also had back-row firepower, with five kills launched from behind the 3-meter line.