RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Ribeiro wants to step up his game against USC
The 6-foot sophomore is one of the keys to the Warriors' success
To play beautifully. To respect the game as it's meant to be played.
It's a phrase -- borrowed from the 2006 Brazilian World Cup soccer team -- that reflects Mark Ribeiro's Portuguese heritage. It's one that he wears on his right lower leg as a tattoo, and one he wears in his heart on the volleyball court.
The 6-foot sophomore played fairly well in his season debut against UC Santa Barbara on Friday, with a team-high 16 kills and two aces in the 3-1 loss to the Gauchos.
But to stay in the lineup, the New York native knows he's got to quit driving his coaches crazy. Goofy-foot is a good thing for surfing but it's not a good thing in volleyball, where Ribeiro often has problems with his footwork pattern.
"I do drive the coaches crazy," he said as the 12th-ranked Warriors prepared for critical conference matches against No. 14 USC tonight and Friday. "But I love that they give me the chance. They want me to cut down on my mistakes. They know I can hit the ball well. I know I can hit the ball well.
"The problem is with footwork, especially on blocking. I know it's going to come with time and experience."
The Hawaii coaches hope so, as well.
"Mark has lots and lots of athletic talent and a tremendous upside," Warriors coach Mike Wilton said. "We just need to get that all harnessed.
"We like his athleticism, he's got the potential to be a starter. He needs the proper footwork and the understanding that volleyball is a visual-motor game. He needs to be able to see what's happening on the court. He drives us all crazy -- and I say that lovingly -- because we know what the player he could become."
There's not a question about the talent. Ribeiro was a four-sport athlete in high school (volleyball, golf, track and bowling) and excelled in youth football, basketball and baseball.
But volleyball was the ticket out of New York, one that brought along his entire family.
Father Mark decided to move the ohana here, leaving a thriving business as a personal trainer. He is at UH, studying Chinese medicine, hoping to incorporate holistic medicine with fitness training.
Mother Iris, a fashion designer, put her career as a marketing director with Paris Fashion Institute on semi-hold and is a car salesperson. Brother Jourdan Peter is a setter at Roosevelt.
His parents, whose roots are intertwined with the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil and Portuguese communities in Massachusetts, had wanted to honeymoon in Hawaii when they first married but were unable to.
"I gave them an excuse to move," Ribeiro said. "I'm studying Portuguese here. My mom speaks it when she goes back to Massachusetts, but she cooks a lot of Portuguese food ... really good Portuguese food.
"It was very comfortable to have that culture here. I do miss the seasons in New York but how can you argue with 80-degree weather?"
Ribeiro is what is considered an invited walk-on, with no athletic financial aid. But he knew he wanted to play for the Warriors after seeing them play on television and on tape.
"I've wanted to come here since middle school," he said. "They were a team that didn't have the 6-7, 6-9 guys on the outside. They had Tony Ching, Aaron Wilton ... guys who weren't all that tall but could jump high and hit hard. That's me. It's what this team does."
The team, currently on a six-game losing streak, has been struggling. Serving and passing have been the main concerns, two phases on which Ribeiro is working.
"Passing is one of his weaknesses and comes in early to work on it," sophomore reserve setter Sean Carney said. "He's gifted athletically but doesn't take that for granted. He's always working hard."
"Mark is a great guy, easy to set and very energized," senior setter Brian Beckwith added. "He's got a quick arm, hits high, jumps well."
But just as the Warriors need to fine-tune their game, so does Ribeiro. Hawaii needs to start winning if it wants to keep its conference postseason hopes alive.
"It's do or die this week because both us and SC are going to play hard," he said. "Hopefully, I can grab my (outside) spot for now.
"We have so many guys who can play the position. I can see why Coach (Wilton) has problems deciding who will play. But we can't keep riding that roller coaster. We're on the fence and all we have to do is fall over and start playing like we know we can play."
Or, as his tattoo sums it up: "Juego bonito."