JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Backup setter Sean Carney has worked his way onto the court as the Warriors' serving specialist.
Carney happy to be back where he belongs
When the Iolani alum picked Lewis, he never thought he would be home setting for Hawaii
In a word, surreal.
That's how Sean Carney describes playing in the Stan Sheriff Center, wearing a Hawaii uniform.
Who: No. 3 Hawaii at No. 14 Pacific
When: Tomorrow and Monday, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM, live
When Carney signed with Lewis University back in 2004, the All-State setter figured his last volleyball appearance in the Sheriff Center had come a few months earlier when he helped Iolani to its only boys state championship in that sport.
He was headed to the Illinois school that had become the first Division II program to win the NCAA title at the Division I level. Carney's first semester in college was very memorable, with Lewis forfeiting its 2003 banner in the wake of an NCAA investigation over use of ineligible players and him deciding to transfer and begin the recruiting process all over again.
"It was tough, because I was talking to some coaches that I had said no to earlier," Carney said. "UH was definitely the front-runner because when I was at Lewis I realized how much I missed home, missed Hawaii.
"I talked to Long Beach (State) and UC Irvine, but I realized what a good opportunity I had to play here. When we're in the arena, I've pointed out where I used to sit and watch the UH games, where I used to watch Jason (Salmeri, now a UH assistant) and Brian (junior setter Beckwith) play. Now I'm playing on that court ... it's a very surreal experience."
As Beckwith's backup, Carney's experience on the court has been mostly as a serving specialist. He's appeared in 17 matches for the 15-4 Warriors, with one kill and one ace to go along with 14 assists.
"Sean is a great competitor and he pushes me every day," Beckwith said. "I wish I could say that I come in and win every (practice) drill, but that's not the case. He wants to learn so much and he's really talented."
Sophomore reserve Jake Schkud has been on the receiving end of Beckwith's sets since the two were 14. Schkud is now on the second team with Carney and "Sean's been nipping at Brian's heels," Schkud said. Sean's grown a lot since I've met him, both as a player and a person.
"He's going to be able to come in next year, give Brian even more of a fight and, after Brian leaves, Sean will take over the program. I don't think there's anyone that they can bring in that can take Sean's position away from him."
Associate coach Tino Reyes, a former college setter, agrees.
"That's probably true," Reyes said of Schkud's assessment. "Sean and Brian were in a battle in fall. If Brian ever goes down, I don't even have to worry whether we could perform or not.
"Sean's a great team player who does whatever we ask him to do -- serves, gets points, plays defense. I'm happy he's here. And it's nice to have a setter from Hawaii. We haven't had one in a while."
The last was Mason Kuo (1995-99), now a Warriors volunteer assistant.
Head coach Mike Wilton said he was interested in Carney out of high school, but didn't have a scholarship available.
"We wanted him in the first place, but it's easy to understand his decision to go to Lewis, which I think offered a pretty good (scholarship) package," Wilton said. "We're very happy to have him. He's pushing Beckwith and it's very close.
"He's fulfilling a wonderful role as backup setter, adds so much to practice, which is where we spend most of our time. He's doing a real nice job of coming in and serving."
Carney likely will be in that role tomorrow when No. 3 Hawaii (15-4, 11-3) plays No. 14 Pacific (7-13, 5-9) in Stockton, Calif. Sitting on the bench is a new experience for Carney, a four-year starter in volleyball and a much-used player on two Iolani state basketball teams.
"It's always hard to sit on the sidelines and watch your teammates," he said. "And coming off the bench is hard. It's the one thing you don't practice; you have to learn it by doing it in the game.
"Physically it's harder. Your whole body is cold and you're not in the flow of the game. I try to stay warm on the sidelines while being mentally prepared to go in."
Carney isn't alone on the sidelines. The Warriors have a bench full of players who might start elsewhere, such as Schkud, hitters Jim Clar and Mark Ribeiro and middle Kyle Klinger. Even senior hitter Matt Bender, who had been sidelined with an ankle injury, isn't starting, in part because he told Wilton he didn't want to mess up the chemistry that has the Warriors on an 11-match winning streak.
"What we have going on right now is a really good thing," Carney said. "It's so unique for a team to have the attitude we have. Most times, you have some players with big egos, but that's not going on with this team.
"Our team's doing well because it's about the team, not the individual. It's weird because I feel I'm right back at Iolani," Carney said, referring to Iolani's motto in athletics -- "One Team."
Carney is studying business law and microeconomics. He's taking Chinese and trying to get into UH's international business program.
The goal is to open a business here, become an entrepreneur.
"I have a lot of ideas about different things," Carney said.
He's got a head start. Carney has already turned the surreal into reality.