FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Libero Ric Cervantes looks to enjoy the same success as former UH All-American Alfred Reft.
Cervantes follows in Reft’s footsteps
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It's not always about athletic ability. There's something to be said for determination and drive.
Former Hawaii libero Alfred Reft showed that, turning effort into all-America accolades and a spot currently with the U.S. men's national volleyball team.
When Reft was finishing his eligibility in 2006, he talked to a young Santa Barbara (Calif.) High player named Ric Cervantes about coming to play for the Warriors.
"Alfie said he wanted me to come in and fill his shoes," Cervantes said. "I really appreciated that boost of confidence he had in me."
Cervantes again is expected to be at libero tonight as No. 13 Hawaii hosts No. 15 UC San Diego in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match at the Stan Sheriff Center.
UC San Diego (2-3, 1-3 MPSF) at Hawaii (1-4, 0-2)
» Today, 7 p.m.
» Stan Sheriff Center
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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii libero Ric Cervantes is leading the team in digs despite learning a new position.
Volleyball is a game of transition. Moving from defense to offense on a single play, moving right back to defense if that initial offensive attack is not successful.
The transition game is also a metaphor for Ric Cervantes' playing life as he continues his conversion from an outside hitter in high school to a libero in college. The sophomore knows there is much hard work ahead if he wants to become the defensive anchor and the key to No. 13 Hawaii's transition game this season.
"In high school, libero seemed like a glorified position," Cervantes said as the Warriors prepared for their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match with No. 15 UC San Diego tonight. "It didn't seem like you did much except pass and dig.
"What I've found is it's a really team-oriented position and, if you're not a team player, you don't belong on the court. Liberos have to not only pass but I have to set up the back row. There's a lot of intangibles and I'm still learning."
Cervantes came in with a high volleyball I.Q., having learned the game on the beaches of Santa Barbara, Calif., and mentored by some of the sport's greats. It's where he sees his future in the sport going, back to the sand.
It's why the move to Hawaii was easy. There was no major lifestyle change and the Santa Barbara High product had a built-in rivalry with Warrior coach Mike Wilton, who also grew up in Santa Barbara but went to crosstown rival San Marcos High.
"It's a fun thing to talk about when the schools play each other," Cervantes said.
The Warriors weren't Cervantes' first choice. That would have been his hometown Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara, where his older brother Cole played briefly.
BYU offered Cervantes financial aid but he didn't see himself fitting in at the Provo, Utah, school. He also looked at Pepperdine but couldn't afford it.
Former UCSB assistant Todd Rogers steered Cervantes toward Hawaii, saying he thought the Warriors would be a good fit.
Cervantes also got encouragement from two former Gauchos who transferred to Hawaii: All-American libero Alfred Reft and current senior hitter Jake Schkud.
"Alfie said he could see me stepping into his shoes," Cervantes said of Reft (2004-06), UH's all-time dig leader. "He was one of the best ever. Why not follow in the footsteps of a legend?"
At the moment, it's Cervantes' position to lose. Behind him on the depth chart are junior Mikey China and sophomores Cory Enriques and Justin Ching, with sophomore hitter Ernie Vidinha another possibility.
"He competes really hard, has a lot of ability and he's ahead of our other guys in the passing department," Wilton said of Cervantes. "But as I tell our guys, we had a little guy named Alfie Reft who had less talent than all five of them combined. But what Alfie had was a dedication component that was off the charts, which is why he's with the national team.
"That's what we're looking for at that position."
Cervantes is giving it his best shot. He is leading the Warriors in digs (2.84 dpg), fourth-best in the MPSF, with his career high of 17 coming in the five-game loss to UCLA on Jan. 5.
"Ric will be as good as he wants to be," UH associate coach Tino Reyes said. "There is no substitute for hard work. I keep telling him he's more athletic than Alfie. But whether he uses it, that we don't know.
"He's the most steady of our guys right now and he's got the experience of going through the league last year. But he'll need to pass better than he did last year. If we don't pass the ball well, we're going to struggle."
And that's Cervantes' mission. To keep the Warrior transition game effective by doing his job.
"I know I need to be doing better," he said. "I want to be perfect, which is unrealistic. But I do want to keep improving as the season goes on.
"Soccer was my sport of choice growing up but it wasn't fun anymore. It became like a business. I wanted to play a sport for the love of the game and that's why I'm here to play volleyball."