RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii libero Alfred Reft stayed in Hawaii to work out during Christmas break but will return home today.
Reft's circuitous route was worth it
His collegiate volleyball life has come full circle.
Alfred Reft has returned to UC Santa Barbara, where he spent his freshman season and where he made his conference debut as Hawaii's libero a year later after transferring.
The Warriors open Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play today against the Gauchos, and Reft, now a senior, has two words: "Deja vu."
Who: No. 7 Hawaii (0-0) at No. 8 UCSB (1-2)
When: Today and tomorrow, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM. Live today, joined in progress after men's basketball tomorrow.
"Wow, the last time we were here, Mau (senior middle Mauli'a La Barre) and I were sophomores on our first road trip," Reft said. "We talked about how the next time we'd be here, we'd be seniors. It's gone by ridiculously fast.
"People always say that it goes by in a blink of an eye, but it really has. It's very interesting to start my last year where I started my career ... both of my careers ... at Santa Barbara and UH."
Robertson Gym hasn't changed in the past few years, but Reft nowhere resembles the freshman so unhappy that he decided to give up playing volleyball and transfer 100 miles south to be "just a student at UCLA."
"I was there (UCLA), practically living in my dorm," Reft said. "I was so close, I could taste the soft-serve ice cream in the dining room."
Instead, a call from Hawaii melted the bitterness he was feeling after a season where he saw brief action in seven games, recording a total of four digs. In two seasons at Manoa, the 5-foot-8 Reft has 510 digs, has broken the UH single-season dig mark each year and is considered one of the finest liberos in the country.
As a junior, he earned All-American recognition. Volleyball magazine voted him its Defensive Player of 2005.
USA Volleyball called last spring, inviting him to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to train with the players that would make up the World University Games team.
"Alfred was fantastic at the Olympic training center this summer," WUG coach Joe Wortmann said. "We were fortunate to have him come and share his energy and skills. He is a marvelous defensive player and his competitive spirit infused our practice sessions with fire and joy."
The praise and accolades have gone to Reft's head ... but in a positive way. It has given him the mental confidence to match his skills.
"The summer was such a high," he said. "The coaches recognizing me, going to Colorado, playing with the best players in our country, guys I've looked up to for years ... it was incredible. To know that I was stepping on the same floor with those guys gave me the right to own confidence in myself, to know, I guess, that I'm good enough to be out there.
"It's not being overconfident or cocky, but it's nice to know that I do have the ability, that I could go back to Hawaii and lead my team."
Reft has done just that ever since being named team captain prior to fall camp. Warrior teammates and coaches say he has taken the role and made it his own.
"I won't say it's a transformation because Alfie's always been a leader," senior hitter Matt Bender said. "But he's put on that captain's mantle and become a very impressive leader by example.
"He takes time to have meetings, refresh what the coaches want. He made that conscious decision to be a leader so the team would be better. Plus he's a really nice guy."
Reft can point to last April's playoff loss to Long Beach State as his personal wake-up call.
"It was one of my worst performances of the year and I felt I let the team down," he said. "That stayed with me for a while. I promised myself it would never happen again."
After fall camp was done at the end of October, Reft continued to work hard. He didn't go home during Christmas break because he felt the need to stay and work out.
"Those two weeks here were huge for me," he said. "As much as I missed not seeing my family and friends for Christmas, I knew that if I went home, I'd just be sitting around, eating the great food, not staying in shape.
"That's why I'm looking forward to this trip, to see my family (in nearby Oxnard). I haven't seen them in six months."
Six months from now, Reft will have graduated with his English degree and likely be pondering offers to play internationally.
If he continues to have the same defensive effort as the past two seasons, he will also have surpassed Allen Allen's UH career record of 739 digs, a mark that has stood since Allen's career ended in 1989.
The record is not the goal for Reft. He wants to double his celebration in May with a diploma and a national championship.
"We have the experience and leadership to do it," Reft said. "Every year we're gunning for the championship, but it is my senior year and the last time for this senior class to make it happen.
"Sometimes your gut is telling you that everything is in line, that everything feels right. That's the feeling I have."
It's the same feeling he had when opting for shave ice instead of soft-serve ice cream.
"Coming here has opened doors that I never would have had if I had been just a student at UCLA," he said. "I have so many options now and I'm grateful for the way everything turned out.
"If I hadn't come here, I would have been just another grain of sand in the ocean."
Reft may be back where he started but, in many ways, his journey has just begun.