JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Jim Clar nearly went to Penn State to play volleyball after high school.
Clar grows into role
He has a date. Both with the calendar and with his friends.
May 3. St. John Arena. Columbus, Ohio.
That's when and where the friends of Jim "Jimbo" Clar plan to meet and greet and overwhelm him. That's when a bunch of crazy New Yorkers from Buffalo, Rochester and others from The Empire State plan to drive down for the NCAA championship semifinals hosted by Ohio State.
His friends have promised to wear green. They've told Clar he'd better be there ... on the court ... after they've made that 4-hour drive.
"They said they're going and they're wearing green," Clar said. "They're ready."
And so is Clar, who has waited and waded through a redshirt season and a freshman year where he saw very limited playing time in five games.
Now the 6-foot-2 sophomore opposite finds himself against No. 13 Loyola-Chicago in tonight's second match of the 13th Outrigger Hotels Invitational. Clar is expected to make his fourth start for the third-ranked Warriors (2-2) against the Ramblers (3-1).
It's a long way from home, particularly for a volleyball player in a state that more embraces hockey.
If things had turned out differently, he'd be on the roster of Penn State, which takes on Brigham Young in today's 4 p.m. tournament opener.
"Penn State was my second choice," Clar said. "I have a lot of friends there. The campuses are totally different. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
"But once I came out here for a visit, it wasn't too difficult a choice. The volleyball out here is amazing. That's what sold me."
Warriors associate coach Tino Reyes was sold on Clar early, starting when Clar was playing 15s in the Junior Olympic Tournament.
"He was one of two players on his club team we looked at," Reyes said. "We knew he could jump and hit hard. Then he was the libero on the (USA Volleyball) Youth National Team, so we figured he could pass.
"He may be 6-2, but volleyball is not about how tall you are. It's about how you play the game. Our philosophy here is we won't sacrifice quickness for height. We'd rather have a smaller guy who is quicker and more dynamic than a big, slow guy."
And Clar is dynamic, as evidenced by his explosive quickness. He had 31 kills in the two wins over Pacific last week at opposite, where he has replaced All-America senior Lauri Hakala, who has moved to the left-side hitting position.
"I'm very proud of him," Hakala said of Clar. "He has played well and he has played with no fear. Everyone saw what happened against Pacific. Give someone the responsibility and you can see what happens.
"He's very dynamic, very versatile. He's a sophomore and it makes tons of sense as he'll be an asset for the next two years, where I will be graduating this year."
It's not to say that Hawaii coach Mike Wilton didn't agonize about moving Hakala to the left. However, Hakala on the left-side gives the Warriors a solid 1-2 punch on the pins.
Hakala was mostly a left-side hitter in 2005. He was moved to opposite last season when senior Matt Bender was injured.
"Maybe that's the magical position for us," Reyes said. "We put guys there (at opposite) out of necessity and they become All-Americans.
"Lauri was gracious enough to give up that position so we could be a better team."
The Warriors continue to grow, as has Clar, who has added some 20 pounds to his body frame and 4 inches to his vertical jump in the past three years.
He began concentrating on volleyball after the usual myriad youth sports: soccer, basketball, track.
When it came time to concentrate on one sport, it was volleyball.
"It was the most fun," Clar said. "It's the one I wanted to pursue.
"And UH? Being a 6-2 hitter there weren't a lot of places that would look at me as a swinger."
His athleticism has belied his height.
"We liked him because he was so dynamic," Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. "But we had some financial issues and we wanted him to walk on.
"Jimbo is a very good athlete who decided to come this way. A lot of people get caught up in the wins and losses. But I see a player who will get great training under two great role models in Mike (Wilton) and Tino (Reyes). You like to see kids succeed in this sport, regardless where they play."
It's been an interesting transition for Clar, a move made easier by knowing senior setter Brian Beckwith, junior hitter Jake Schkud and freshman middle Matt Rawson through the USA Volleyball program. Schkud roomed with Clar during an international tournament in Montreal, Canada, and was his roommate for a few semesters at UH.
"I'm glad he's getting a chance to show what he can do and he's coming into his own," Schkud said. "We've seen it in practice. It's not like one day he decided to say, 'Oh, I can jump.' "
"He can jump out of the gym," said Beckwith, a teammate of Clar's and Schkud's on the USA Junior National Team. "His style of play is real fun to watch, very explosive and so fun.
"His progression is really up to him A lot of it was him getting to know the college game, knowing you're good enough to play at this level. I've told him there's a reason he's here. It's because you're good enough. Now start playing like it."
The sociology major is beginning to feel it. He and Beckwith have connected well on the 'D' set, which has him flying in from behind the 3-meter line to contact the ball.
"Brian is really good, it's really easy to get into a rhythm," Clar said. "With him, you know you're going to get a good set in a good spot and that adds to your confidence.
"He's a really smart setter, gives you good looks, hittable ball, one-on-one situations. He makes it easy for hitters and we've been connecting."
Clar has also connected with living in Hawaii as well as his teammates. When he got homesick his redshirt year, he thought of how cold it was in Rochester and retreated to the beach.
"The team helped, too," Clar said. "It's a bunch of good guys, which is one of the reasons I liked it here. We hang out all the time.
"The other thing is we practice hard. I see a bunch of players coming together and it is sweet. This program has so much talent. Our practices are like games. We go hard and only good things will come from that."
Like a date in May in Columbus, Ohio.