JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
No matter where life after volleyball takes Mauli'a La Barre, he hopes to return to Hawaii.
La Barre finds middle ground
Moment by moment.
That's how Mauli'a La Barre is building his life and his volleyball résumé.
There are six more regular-season matches for the Hawaii middle blocker, beginning with tonight's nonconference meeting against Loyola-Chicago.
Loyola-Chicago at No. 4 Hawaii
When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 7 p.m. Saturday's alumni matches, 4 p.m. (1950s-'80s) and 4:45 p.m. ('90s-2000s).
TV: Live, KFVE Ch. 5
Radio: Saturday live, KKEA, 1420-AM
Series: Hawaii leads 5-1
Depending on how one looks at it, there's 30 days ... or 720 hours ... or 43,200 minutes ... from tonight's opening introductions to the introductions that will kick off senior night for La Barre on April 15 against Brigham Young.
But that match vs. the Cougars might as well be being played in Samara, Russia -- where La Barre served his LDS mission in 2001-2003. That's how far away La Barre and the rest of the third-ranked Warriors feel about BYU.
"I am just playing in the moment," La Barre said. "I'm only worried about what's happening right now. Not about are we going to Pennsylvania (for the NCAA final four at Penn State). Not about are we going to win the MPSF.
"We have Loyola and that's who we're worried about right now. We're not worried about the 'if we win this game, then we'll finish here in the standings.' "
However, there is no looking past the fact that the Hawaii-BYU series April 14-15 could very well decide the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship. La Barre doesn't deny that being able to do that in the Stan Sheriff Center, in front of family and friends, would be very sweet.
"It would be big to win at home," the Roosevelt High product said. "Of course, players think about it. But we are focusing on playing in the moment, not letting things like bad calls bother us.
"I think the guys have all realized that we can't worry about what has happened. We have to move on and deal with what's next, which is playing well."
Hawaii's remarkable resiliency this season is evidenced by the Warriors' nine-match winning streak. The team continues to find ways to win, even when falling way behind as Hawaii did against UCLA in Game 3 last Saturday.
La Barre, a starter the last 11 matches, attributes the success to the Warriors' no-star lineup.
"I've got to say that this is the best TEAM I've been on here," said La Barre, who first joined the program in 2001. "We've had a lot of very talented players and there were games we could put it together and other games we couldn't.
"This team doesn't give up, no matter what the problem is. If we're not serving well, we'll find other ways to get points. If we're not siding-out, we'll play defense. The guys have it in their heads that the other team is either going to have to throw the kitchen sink at us to beat us, or we're going to have to pass out."
One reason for Hawaii's success has been its blocking, considered a liability last fall. Although giving away several inches at most positions, the Warriors have out-blocked their opponents 211-143, are second in the MPSF in block average (3.53) behind Pepperdine and one of two MPSF teams with two blockers ranked nationally in the top 15.
Junior middle Dio Dante is second (1.64 bpg) and La Barre 15th (1.29). Hawaii's middles have improved, thanks in part to former BYU coach Carl McGown, an interim assistant last fall; All-MPSF middle Jason Salmeri, an ex-Warrior hired as an assistant in December; and competition between Dante, La Barre, Kyle Klinger and Jake Schkud for the two starting spots.
"Playing against each other each day makes each of us better," Dante said. "Having that competition makes you try harder every day.
"Mau is the one I'm trying to beat out. We feed off each other."
"I think Mau is doing wonderful," Salmeri said. "He's worked his way into the starting lineup, even plays defense. And his jump-float (serve) can be deadly, taking the spin off the ball like a knuckleball.
"He's also very quick. He's our fastest middle and he really jumps high."
La Barre is 6-foot-8, and estimates he touches 11-6. He's had 15 10-plus kill nights in his career but that's not what he enjoys the most.
"Kills or blocks? Blocks," he said. "Especially if it's a huge point. A good, nice stuff makes you sleep better that night after the game."
La Barre has dreams of playing professionally, or with the U.S. national team. He'll finish his degree in Russian this spring and then see where volleyball or fate takes him.
Regardless of where La Barre goes in the next few years -- Europe to play, the mainland for his master's degree -- there's one thing of which he is certain.
"I want to live in Hawaii," said La Barre, who estimates he is more than 25 percent Hawaiian. "I want to come back, work, find someone to settle down with, start a family.
"I've traveled a little bit, to Japan, the mainland, Europe. There's a lot to like and appreciate in those places but to me, home is always home."
La Barre considers himself a typical local boy, Manapua from Char Hung Sut in Chinatown. Bodysurfing at Walls. Hanging out at his auntie's house in Waimanalo.
He takes pride in being a Roosevelt graduate and continuing the tradition of local players becoming Warriors.
"For me, it's a big accomplishment to make it from Roosevelt, where I had great coaches in volleyball and basketball to help me move on to the next level," said La Barre, a two-sport all-star for the Rough Riders. "I'm so stoked for the opportunity to be able to play here with great teammates.
"I guess there's some pressure. I just try to do my best."
Although it has occurred to La Barre that it is his senior year, he said he has no plan for the next few weeks.
"I'm just trying to go with it," he said. "The more fun I have the less I'm worried about the ending."