GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maui High product Dio Dante leads Hawaii in hitting percentage and blocks. He is second on the team in aces.
Dante sees both sides now
The Hawaii middle blocker, used to winning, experiences losing for once
Half full or half empty? Ask Dio Dante how he views a glass and he'll answer, "A glass."
It's how Dante sees life, on and off the court. As a whole.
There can be no good without the bad, no happiness without the sadness.
As for his senior season at Hawaii, the middle blocker is waiting for the yin to catch up with the yang, with the hope that it will balance out at the end. Win the next eight matches and the Warriors (5-13) will have evened out their record at .500 and most likely have eked into the conference tournament.
But his final season has been about more than wins and losses, more than improving his stock in the eyes of the voters for postseason honors. Nationally ranked in blocking (No. 5) and hitting percentage (No. 17), the Maui High product is more concerned with the whole experience of playing the sport because, after all, it is just a game.
"I'm kind of happy with how things have gone," Dante said. "I've always been on winning teams. This year, I got to see the other side, the losing. It's good to experience both sides of things so you can understand everything about a situation.
"I have learned a lot from this season. The biggest thing is to not give up. We showed last week (when beating Cal State Northridge twice) what can happen when you keep working hard."
It's been through his hard work that the 6-foot-8 Dante has gone from someone Warriors coach Mike Wilton thought would never see playing time to being one of the most consistent performers. Dante leads the team in hitting percentage (.428) and blocks (96), and is second in aces (12).
"He's grown so much in the four years we've been together," senior setter Brian Beckwith said. "He's gone from just a regular big kid from Maui to one of the top blockers, if not THE top blocker, in the country.
"He's proved to everyone that hard work can pay off huge. He's a big force to be reckoned with at the net. He owns it."
Beckwith and Dante connected well in last week's two victories over CSUN. Dante had just one error in 22 swings, putting down 11 kills in the two matches, and also was in on 10 of the team's 28 blocks, several times teaming with Beckwith for the stuff.
"I feel very lucky that we've been able to block next to each other the last two years -- we put up a big block," the 6-6 Beckwith said. "And it's all him most of the time. He's a lot better than most people give him credit. If I were picking All-Americans, he'd be on my first team every time."
That Dante didn't make the All-America team, and was only a third-team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation pick last year, was a sore point during the offseason.
"I don't think it bothers him now," senior hitter Lauri Hakala said. "He knows how good he is."
Dante's response is, "Whatever."
"They're going to pick the guys they pick," he said of postseason teams. "They're all good players. It's not going to change what I do.
"The season has been what it is. Even though it hasn't been perfect, it's hard to be mad when you're playing a game you love. Nothing has changed for me. I'm just happy to be out there playing, being with the boys. How can it get any better when you get to travel, match up against other teams and challenge yourself to see how well you can do?"
Challenges have often come Dante's way, including those when his mother, Lori, moved the family from Oregon to Maui when he was 14. They lived for a time in a rustic house in Honokohau Valley with solar power and suspect plumbing.
Dante ended up living alternately with Maui High coaches Albert Paschoal (volleyball) and Bill Naylor (basketball). It helped forged his independent, wanderer spirit.
"He's gone through hardships and it's amazing to see how he turned out," Lori Dante said. "I've never told my kids what to do, but I have encouraged them, whatever they choose, to give 100 percent. He's been very focused with his volleyball and I'm very proud of him."
In a few weeks, Dante's focus will be on other things. Despite a feeler from the national team, this likely is the last of his serious indoor play.
"I have two more classes after this semester," the sociology major said. "It will be nice to be a regular student. I've been living in the gym for a long time and it's time to be a wanderer for a while.
"I came to college to play volleyball, but I'm ready to pick up and go, pick up some new hobbies like surfing, paddling, snowboard, rock climbing. Maybe work some land in Hana. I'm ready to broaden my horizons."
The sun hasn't yet set on his Warriors career. There are at least eight more matches, but when Dante sees that green flash, it will be more like a green light.
"I'll miss the guys, the solidarity," he said. "My job has been to be athletic, and it's good to have been good at my job. It's what I want to be my whole life.
"But I'm still optimistic for this season. We're not done and I'm trying to do as much as I can and be a steady force for the team."