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UH volleyball team hopes to jump up to No. 2 seed with wins over UC Irvine

Apr. 5—Hawaii men's volleyball coach Charlie Wade isn't concerned with where the Rainbow Warriors are seeded in the Big West Tournament from three to six.

Hawaii men's volleyball coach Charlie Wade isn't concerned with where the Rainbow Warriors are seeded in the Big West Tournament from three to six.

Get the two seed, however, and the path to the NCAA Championships gets just a little bit easier for the No. 4-ranked Warriors.

Hawaii (20-4, 3-3 Big West ) has the opportunity to climb into second place in the Big West with two victories over No. 5 UC Irvine (16-7, 5-1 ) today and tomorrow at Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif.

The Anteaters suffered their first conference loss of the season last week against Cal State Northridge and finish the regular season with Hawaii and league-leading Long Beach State.

The Rainbow Warriors finish the regular season with a rare back-to-back road trip at No. 19 UC San Diego next week.

"It'd be great, obviously. Three nights in a row is a lot harder than playing two nights in a row, " Wade said Tuesday before the team departed for California on Wednesday. "At the end of it, we've got to keep trying to get better and it will take care of itself."

Hawaii finished its regular-season home schedule with two wins over UC Santa Barbara last week to get to.500 in conference play and move to 3-3 since losing outside hitter Spyros Chakas to a season-ending injury suffered against this same UC Irvine team.

The Anteaters went 1-2 in the Outrigger Volleyball Invitational four weeks ago and took Hawaii to five sets before losing a match in which Chakas was hurt on match point.

Everyone has had to step up in Chakas' absence, including freshman setter Tread Rosenthal, who has also dealt with an injured finger he has had to tape up during matches.

It's been a lot for the 17-year-old to figure out as he's basically had to learn on the job. The Chakas injury has only made that learning curve become even greater.

"I've had that conversation with him a couple times and (Monday ) at practice, it happened again, " Wade said. "It's time. You've got to kind of take the mantle here and he knows that and he's been doing it slowly and he understands too with what's going on it really is time for him to take on more of a leadership role."

Rosenthal has started every match this season and won the Big West Freshman of the Week award six times.

He posted his third double-double of the season with 48 assists and 10 digs in Saturday's five-set win over the Gauchos and was in on five of UH's season-high 18.5 blocks.

UH remains No. 1 nationally in aces per set at 2.18 with Rosenthal leading the team with 37. His assists per set average has gone up just slightly from 9.9 before Chakas' injury to 10.3 without him.

"It's just been a little adjustment period. I'm used to setting Spyros more than I have a few of the other guys on the team, but it's just been regaining a connection with some of the guys I haven't been playing with a lot on the court, " Rosenthal said. "We have amazing guys coming off the bench that have stepped up their game."

Freshman Louis Sakanoko has done his part to step his game up averaging 3.6 kills per set over his last five matches with two 19-kill performances.

Sakanoko and Rosenthal seemed to find a nice rhythm at the end of the Gauchos match on Saturday, when Rosenthal found him for two crushing kills at the end of the fourth set.

Sakanoko started the fifth set with three more thunderous kills and added an ace to help UH pull out the win on senior night.

"I knew we had to rely on him late in the game so just getting him kind of prepared and getting him going at the end of the fourth set even knowing we might not win that set, getting something going into the fifth set was important, " Rosenthal said. "On the court, off the court, I think we have a really good connection and he's a great guy to have on the team."

All three matches UC Irvine played last month in Hawaii went five sets. UCI lost to UH despite getting 36 kills Hilir Henno and 30 assists and 22 digs from former Rainbow Warrior Brett Sheward.

Henno, a junior who like Sakanoko is also from France, leads the country in points per set at 5.52 and is second in kills at 4.73 per set.

Junior outside hitter Nolan Flexen, who missed 12 matches this season, including the entire Outrigger tournament, returned to the lineup last week for the Anteaters against CSUN and is averaging 3.31 kills pet set this season.

"We've got a pretty good rapport with them, " Wade said. "We played them in the fall, they've come to the Outrigger before, mathematically we could play them five times this year in season. The Bren is a good venue. We like playing in those big, wide open spaces."

This is only the third road trip Hawaii has taken all season. UH is 3-2 away from home with both loses coming at No. 1 Long Beach State.