RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
His athletic DNA includes golf (the late Ted Makalena), sumo (George Kalima) and volleyball (former BYU-Hawaii player Eddie Kalima). His drive comes from father Wayne, a U.S. Marshal, who oversaw the arrest of Duane "Dog" Chapman. But it's his passion for volleyball that has turned Eric Kalima, above, into one of the top liberos in the country. The Hawaii senior co-captain is thinking about a future in law enforcement, but his immediate goal is to get the Warriors into playoff contention, beginning with tonight's match against No. 1 Pepperdine. CLICK FOR LARGE
Increase in playing time is bittersweet for Kalima
It's not the senior year he expected. That any of the Warriors expected. Not after finishing second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation last year, ending the regular season winning 19 straight.
Certainly no one expected Hawaii (3-11, 3-9 MPSF) to be struggling like this to put W's into the win column. To be in 10th place and in danger of not making the MPSF men's volleyball tournament.
But if anyone can keep the Warriors focused on playing in the moment and not worrying about the past, it's Eric Kalima. The senior libero and co-captain knows all too well the frustrations of your best not being quite good enough ... as well as how determination and hard work pays off eventually.
After redshirting in 2003, the walk-on from Kamehameha Schools was in street clothes his freshman year, never seeing the court. Kalima made a very brief appearance as a sophomore, playing in the third match of the season against BYU ... and never again.
The backup libero to All-American Alfred Reft, Kalima tried to break in as an outside hitter as a junior and had more success than a 6-footer might be expected to have in the land of the volleyball giants. This season, he had earned a spot again on the outside, but when the Warriors' passing failed early, Kalima was back in the different colored jersey, doing a job that has him third in the MPSF in digs, 11th nationally.
"Eric has certainly paid his dues," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "I love his all-out effort day after day with no complaints and no excuses.
"He won the job on the outside, but for him to be an effective hitter, we need to be a really good passing team. We aren't and we needed him to be a libero.
"He is a such great role model. Kind of quiet but works hard and very athletic. He is a Warrior, without question."
Many will remember Kalima's all-out effort to get a ball his junior year against Penn State. The Sandy Beach semi-permanent resident and outstanding bodyboarder attacked the riser barrier as if it were a wave, doing a front flip into the crowd, forgetting there would be no water landing.
"It was our first home game and I was so pumped to be on the court," he said. "I felt like I was bodysurfing. At the last second, all I could think was 'just tuck.' I was more sore than anything else, but it was something natural for me to do."
It wasn't the first time. At the 2003 Junior Olympics in Louisville, Ky., Kalima flew over two benches to get to a ball.
"He got to the ball, but it was out of bounds," said Warrior senior middle Dio Dante, Kalima's club teammate. "He's very athletic, very crazy. He's the guy who will go after any ball.
"He's kind of quiet off the court, but on the court he's pretty intense. He's always pumped up to play libero, which is kind of a hard position to get pumped up about. But he plays with so much emotion and likes to be the motivational guy so we can feed off each other."
Kalima has been that way since high school, according to former Kamehameha coach Pono Ma'a.
"He's pretty much a student of the game," said Ma'a, an All-America hitter for UH (1983-86). "He's self-motivated, works hard. But the biggest thing is his passion.
"When he played for me, he was a libero, except we didn't have that position in high school. He was just a back-row specialist. It's a bummer, because if we had a libero, then, he would have been huge."
Which is how Ma'a describes Kalima's physical change.
"He's got to be the strongest guy on the team, especially for his size," Ma'a said. "He's a stud now. He was a little guy when he played for me.
"I like the fact that when he's on the floor, he wants to make an impact. He's not there to take up space.
"He's a great story, local boy done good. He's the guy you want to go to war with. When I watch him play, he doesn't look like he's playing under pressure. It looks like he's enjoying every moment."
Kalima is the first to admit that he is.
"I'm just happy to be on the court," he said. "I always felt positive about being here. I knew if I kept training hard, I'd get my chance.
"I had to keep working at it. This is what was helping me get through school. I'm glad I stuck with it. Being the libero is fun for me. I'm enjoying my role on the team."
When Kalima missed practice this week with a stomach ailment, it shocked his teammates.
"He never misses practice," fellow senior co-captain Lauri Hakala said. "We knew he must really be sick or the crazy surfer got hurt at Sandy's.
"That he's a co-captain shows how much faith the guys have in him and says a lot about his character. He's quiet and if he says something, everyone will listen."
Kalima, who graduates in May with a sociology degree, has plenty to say about where the team is headed. First stop is qualifying for the MPSF tournament, which would be the perfect birthday present.
Kalima turns 23 the day before the MPSF quarterfinals on April 21.
"I still believe we can turn it around," he said. "Even though things aren't going well, we're still making progress.
"We have great fans and I hope more will come out. I'd like to say thanks for the support and hang in there with us."