The joy of setting
Brian Beckwith has fourth-ranked Hawaii on a seven-match roll
The day Brian Beckwith quits playing volleyball is the day that a part of him dies. He has found such joy and passion in the sport that the day playing volleyball doesn't make him happy is the day he walks away.
UCLA at Hawaii
When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Radio: Both matches live, KKEA (1420-AM)
TV: Both matches live, KFVE (Channel 5)
Don't count on that happening anytime soon.
Beckwith is having fun -- a lot of fun -- setting for No. 4 Hawaii. His teammates hear it in what Beckwith refers to as his cackle, a laugh that might lead to questions about the junior's sanity.
"It's very distinct," said Jake Schkud, Beckwith's volleyball teammate since the two were 14-year-olds. "It's contagious. You just start laughing.
"It's joyful. It's just how Brian is ... outgoing, funny, always cracking jokes. Volleyball is supposed to be fun. He brings the attitude that, 'Hey, guys, it's OK. We're going to get through this.'"
And, as senior hitter Jose Delgado would say, "Si, ya lo creo. Es verdad." (Spanish for "Yes, believe it. It's true.")
Because on the court Beckwith and Delgado connect not only on sets but by conversing in Spanish. Beckwith picked up the language growing up in Southern California, taking surf trips to Mexico and through classes at UH.
"His Spanish is really good," said Delgado, who is from Puerto Rico. "Brian wants to make everyone feel comfortable on the court and it's pretty cool that he'll call plays for me in Spanish. We have our little secrets.
"He's the fourth setter I've had here and they've all been awesome. What I like is how Brian runs our team, is in control. He has become a true leader."
It shows in the willingness that Beckwith, and the rest of the Warriors, have in trying to improve every day. The players take advantage of time allowed by the NCAA to be on the court outside of practice.
Beckwith's focus during Wednesday's 8 a.m. session was on his serve.
"It's a work in progress," he conceded. "It's coming along. It's why I'm here every day, why WE'RE here every day. A lot of our improvement has to do with confidence as a team. That has to do with the confidence each person has in his position and in his ability. It shows on the court."
It has shown in the Warriors' record as well. Hawaii has gone 8-2 since losing to UCLA on Jan. 20.
Beckwith points to the last loss -- to then-No. 1 Pepperdine on the road in five on Feb. 9 -- as a turning point.
"That was the No. 1-team, we weren't even playing well and we were right there at their heels," he said. "It just clicked for all of us. 'Hey, we're a good team, let's start playing like it.' Ever since then, we've been playing like a winning team."
The next night, the Warriors swept the Waves, Pepperdine's first home loss in two seasons. It jump-started UH's win streak, now at seven heading into tonight's match against UCLA.
The Bruins recruited Beckwith, and it would have been an easy decision. His mother works at the UCLA Medical Center, he attended numerous UCLA volleyball camps and it's a short drive down Sunset Boulevard to his Pacific Palisades home.
But UCLA had signed another setter and Beckwith didn't want to redshirt or be a backup. Plus, the island lifestyle appealed to the former nationally ranked youth surfer.
"I love it here, the people, everything," said Beckwith, who commutes daily from the Kaneohe home his parents bought two years ago. "And if this place (the Stan Sheriff Center) is packed, it's loud, we're playing well ... it's so much fun.
"It's been the best three years of my life so far."
Beckwith became a setter because he was the shortest player on his 14s team. He has literally grown into the position, physically and mentally.
Thanks to working with UH strength coach Mel deLaura, Beckwith gained 20-25 pounds of "good" weight and added inches to his vertical.
Schkud, Beckwith's best friend and USA Volleyball teammate the past seven years, has seen the growth firsthand.
"I saw it his freshman year against BYU," said Schkud, who redshirted at UCSB his first season before transferring. "I was so proud of him, he just took control.
"They talk about other setters in the country, but no one at our level has his ability."
It's all done with a smile.
"The first reason I started playing volleyball was because it was fun," Beckwith said. "It's the reason I surf, it's the reason I play volleyball. It all comes out of enjoyment.
"How I am on the court -- my smile, my laugh, the jokes -- is about keeping my teammates relaxed and getting them to enjoy the game, too, because we all play better when we're having fun."