RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Freshman Matt Rawson, center, is considered the Warriors' quickest middle blocker, and he has added 30 pounds to his frame without getting slowed down. Hawaii hosts Pacific at 7 tonight in the Warriors' Mountain Pacific Sports Federation home opener.
Freshman 'Dragon' brings fire to Warriors
Klinger's injury could put Rawson on the floor more tonight as UH looks to avoid 0-3
He's satisfied playing lead guitar for the yet unnamed garage band made up of teammates living in his house.
But what Matt Rawson really wants to be is lead player for the Hawaii volleyball team.
The 6-foot-8 freshman middle blocker brings a fiery intensity to the court, a spark that earned him the nickname "Dragon" in his freshman year of high school. It's a heated passion he hopes to bring to the Stan Sheriff Center court tonight when the fifth-ranked Warriors face No. 11 Pacific in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
Hawaii (0-2, 0-2 MPSF) is looking to avoid its first 0-3 start in school history. With junior middle Kyle Klinger having to leave yesterday's practice early because he was not feeling well,
Rawson may literally have a hand in ending the skid if called upon to start against the Tigers.
He is ready.
"I have seen greatness in our team, in our players," said Rawson, who started in place of senior Dio Dante in both matches at UC Irvine last week. "We could be the top team at the end of the season.
"But it all depends on how much desire there is. Everyone has to take that extra step, push themselves to the limit."
The Mira Costa (Calif.) High graduate has done that, adding 30 pounds to his athletic frame. It hasn't affected Rawson's quickness, which Warrior coaches consider the best of the team's middle blockers.
"He really works hard on his footwork," assistant coach Jason Salmeri said. "You'll see him before practice working on it. His footwork is even better than Dio (Dante), who should have been a first-team All-American.
"Every aspect of Matt's game is pretty much there. He's already an incredible player and he's going to get even better. It's just a matter of time."
And it all came about because he had lost the desire for basketball. Already 6-4 as a freshman, he decided to try out for the St. Bernard volleyball team "and I really liked it," said Rawson, who later transferred to Mira Costa because of the quality of the volleyball program. "Then I played club and I liked it even more."
The sport liked him back. He made all-tournament at the Junior Olympics and was invited to play for the USA Youth National Team, then the Junior National Team.
While in the USA Volleyball pipeline, he became acquainted with current Warrior players Brian Beckwith, Jake Schkud and Jim Clar. Joining them at Hawaii seemed a logical choice.
"I wanted to get away but still be close to family," said Rawson, whose uncle lives on the North Shore. "I like living here, the community, the plate lunches, the beaches."
And playing volleyball.
"My goal is to get to the Olympics," he said. "I want to see how far volleyball will take me."
Rawson has already come a long way, according to his teammates.
"Our position is really tough," Klinger said. "It takes a lot of experience to be a good middle. It's reading (blocking) situations more than anything else.
"You can tell Matt has had a lot of good coaches. He's really technical, doesn't have a lot of bad habits. He has really efficient movements and that makes him fast. He needs to get a little stronger, but he's going to be a real force in this league."
"He pretty much came in as a really good player," Dante said. "His fundamentals are great and he has that winning attitude.
"He's very sure of himself. Sometimes the only thing that holds a freshman back is his mind-set. The fact that he's excelling says something about his mind-set."
In the two matches so far, Rawson has been in on six of Hawaii's 17.5 blocks. He also has eight kills, hitting .357, but offense is not his focus.
"Of course I always want the ball, but my position is called middle blocker for a reason," Rawson said. "Blocking is what I pride myself on.
"I played opposite my senior year and in club, but maybe because I started out as a middle it's why I like blocking so much. I'd rather get a block than a kill."
After stuffing a British Columbia player in an exhibition two weeks ago, the game official warned Rawson of his excessive celebration.
"Sure, he gets asked to control himself sometimes, but that's how he plays," Schkud said. "He brings a fire and an energy to the team."
And a sense of humor. On his bio for the UH media guide, Rawson wrote that his brother Chris was a WWF wrestler known as "The Undertaker."
"I didn't know people read that," said Rawson, admitting it wasn't true.
Around the league:
Sophomore libero Brent Asuka (Iolani '05) had a match-high 10 digs to help top-ranked UC Irvine sweep Cal State Northridge last night. Isaac Kneubuhl (Kamehameha '02) had six kills for the Matadors in the loss. ... In other matches, No. 14 USC upset No. 9 Long Beach State 3-1 and No. 6 UC Santa Barbara rallied from an 0-2 deficit to upset No. 3 UCLA in five.