RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Junior middle blocker Dio Dante came from out of nowhere to lead the Warriors in blocks this season.
Warriors dig Dante
The team can't help but love the junior middle blocker, who provides UH with positive energy
CONFIDENCE tinged with self-criticism.
A don't-worry-be-happy attitude coupled with intense seriousness.
That is the dichotomy wearing No. 19 for the Hawaii men's volleyball team.
Dio Dante is a good player who feels he's not good enough ... not yet.
"I always think I can do better," the 6-foot-7 junior middle said. "I'm hard on myself, and not very positive when it comes to how I think I'm playing.
NO. 4 UC IRVINE AT NO. 7 HAWAII
When: Today and Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Radio: Both matches live, KKEA (1420-AM)
TV: Both matches live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Tickets: $3-$11 upper, $14 lower
"I've got the fundamentals down, the basics. I'm not satisfied because I want to do better."
Dante has come a very long way in a very short time, becoming equally at home in remote Honokohau Valley on Maui as on the Stan Sheriff Center court. It's his ability to adapt and absorb that has helped him become the seventh-ranked Warriors' top blocker (1.47 per game) with the ability to tee off for a double-figure-kill night with an impressive hitting percentage.
Dante hit .909 last season against Long Beach State, with no errors in putting down 10 of his 11 attempts.
"He just works really hard," associate coach Tino Reyes said. "He's made himself into a really good player, someone that teams have to worry about when preparing for us.
"Dio was not highly recruited but teams have to look at him now."
His teammates look to him for inspiration, from the weight room to the gym.
"He's got such a great attitude in practice," sophomore middle Kyle Klinger said. "Mentally, he never gets down and we try to feed off his positive energy. He brings a lot of emotional stability.
"We've all been pushing each other in practice. He's been excellent, and he will continue to get even better."
When former BYU coach Carl McGown came to assist the Warriors during fall camp, he worked hard with Hawaii's middles, particular returnees Dante, Klinger and Mauli'a La Barre. The consensus was that while Dante had the most room for improvement, he was the one who improved the most.
"By leaps and bounds," UH setter Brian Beckwith said of Dante. "He's always had the physicality, but his eyes and court vision have gotten so much better. It shows in his blocking and his attacking. He's mentally there all the time.
"What's great is that he is
always reminding the guys on the court, even in the toughest of matches, that you play this game for fun. He's great to have in the front row because he never stops working hard, never gives up and nothing bothers him."
Not even the faster attack Hawaii is running this season.
Dante first played volleyball as a sophomore at Maui High after moving to the Valley Isle from California with his mother. He's still playing catch-up with the sport -- and the new offense -- but loves the challenges.
He and Beckwith are close in height, which allows the quick-set from the 6-6 Beckwith to get to Dante, well, quicker.
"Being taller, I can contact the ball at its highest point and he can hit it at its highest point," Beckwith said. "It makes our offense that much more fluid."
This quicker connection isn't always easy and Dante already has 12 hitting errors in five matches. He had 19 errors all of last season, including just one in Hawaii's last five matches where he had 42 kills in 58 swings (.707).
"It's mental, getting used to the tempo," said Dante, the Maui Interscholastic League player of the year in 2001. "It keeps getting faster. I just try to keep up."
Dante has had his doubters, from those who didn't think he'd make it in college, either in the classroom or on the court. He's proved all of them wrong, although he's still trying to convince himself.
"Volleyball is a means to an end," he said. "I came to college for volleyball and that keeps me in school.
"I want to travel and if I can continue playing (beyond college) then that would be an easy way to travel, get paid and keep having fun. I never thought it would take me as far as it already has."
Hawaii coach Mike Wilton didn't think so, either.
"In all truthfulness, I can say that when I first laid eyes on him, I thought 'This guy will never play for us,' " Wilton said. "He's made himself into a really nice college player.
"I'm so glad he proved me wrong."