DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Being in position to be the go-to guy appeals to Warriors sophomore Steven Grgas.
Grgas dives into middle
Sophomore is making a successful transition to middle blocker
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He came for the volleyball, not for the body-abusing, adrenaline-pumping waves at Sandy Beach.
Yet, the combination has done wonders for the confidence of Steven Grgas. The sophomore for the Hawaii men's volleyball team is still transitioning from opposite hitter to middle blocker, but he's becoming a force.
No. 12 Loyola-Chicago (10-6) at Hawaii (6-9); today and Friday; 7 p.m.; Stan Sheriff Center; TV: KFVE (Ch. 5); Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
Grgas currently ranks third in blocks (1.51 per game) in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
"I'm really happy for him," said Warriors senior Jake Schkud, who coached Grgas at the club level two years ago. "For him to dominate the way he's doing is really good, is really helping the team."
It took a while for Grgas to come around to his new position and to the thinking of coach Mike Wilton.
"I felt that, in the middle you're just a workhorse," Grgas said. "It's not that I want the recognition, but I like having the pressure of being the go-to guy. And the opposite is the go-to guy.
"But middle is what the team needs and it's fun."
As for Sandy's, Grgas enjoys being back in the water. A beach accident prior to high school smashed his face and his confidence and the Seal Beach, Calif., resident didn't go back in the ocean for another four years.
"I came here and it was like a brand-new thing," Grgas said. "The best thing about Sandy's is you really have to push yourself to get into that water."
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It took a while, but Steven Grgas has come to realize one thing:
It's safe to go back into the water.
And it's not just about him reviving his love of bodysurfing after a traumatic incident a few years ago that left his face bloody and bruised.
It's also about plunging into his role as a middle blocker for the Hawaii men's volleyball team.
The 6-foot-7 Grgas has fought the move, hoping to become a go-to player at opposite hitter. But circumstance and need instead have him shoring up the middle for the Warriors ... and very successfully.
Grgas currently ranks third in blocking (1.51 per game) in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. He has 70 overall, a total he hopes to add to when Hawaii hosts No. 12 Loyola-Chicago tonight and Friday.
"He's certainly made progress," Warriors coach Mike Wilton said. "He has the ability to be a very effective middle. He's put up some nice numbers and serves effectively.
"If he wants to be an opposite, he needs to put some meat on so he can be more durable. We need him where he is right now."
Grgas admits to struggling to keep the weight on. His goal is to be at 200, something he just fell short of this past summer when he weighed in at 198. He's currently in the 190s, up 25 pounds from when he arrived two years ago.
He's also struggled with the move to the middle, in part because he prefers being the go-to guy in pressure situations.
The larger part of his reluctance was going head-to-head with his roommate and good friend Matt "Dragon" Rawson for a starting spot.
"It's been tough, the whole situation with 'Dragon,' " Grgas said. "Last year, when Coach said he wanted me to play middle, I told him I just couldn't do it. I was living with two middles (Rawson and then-senior Dio Dante) and I told him I didn't want to be in that situation, that if I was going to sit, I'd rather be sitting as an opposite than a middle.
"Coach and I talked about it. I want to do what's best for the team."
He's had flashes of greatness, including an 11-block night in a 3-2 loss at UC Santa Barbara last month. And when he gets his swings at the ball, he's been efficient, leading Hawaii with a .400 hitting percentage.
"He's gone from a backup right-side to an everyday player," junior hitter Jim Clar said. "He's accepted the role Coach has asked him to play, manned up and I'm proud of him.
"He's taken the opportunity given to him and done well with it. He's turning into a great volleyball player. Once we get him in-system, he's unstoppable."
Senior Jake Schkud has seen Grgas' growth and maturity as a player and a person. Schkud coached Grgas' 18-under club team in the summer of 2005.
"I'm happy for him and how far he's come," Schkud said. "He was in a tough spot and for him to be able to dominate like he has is really good. He's only getting better."
Schkud was one of the reasons Grgas chose Hawaii over UCLA and UC Irvine.
"I've always looked up to Jake," Grgas said. "He was the stud of our club, had these gold medals as a player, such a background.
"He thought it would be a good idea for me to come here. And I knew he'd help me if I did."
What also attracted Grgas was Hawaii's volleyball reputation, one that included fellowship and team chemistry.
"UCLA just didn't hit the right button with me," Grgas said. "I didn't want to be just another number there. I decided that if I was going to be spending all of my time with people on a team I wanted to be spending it with the right people.
"And I wanted somewhere where I could be close with my teammates. In high school my best friends were my teammates."
And so it is here with the Warriors. Rawson, who's been battling a shoulder injury, is happy Grgas is doing well.
"He has more focus this year, not as goofy," Rawson said. "I think he could be a really good opposite, but he's always been a good middle. I played against him in high school.
"He's being a team player."
As for his ocean trauma, Grgas got over it, thanks to the help of his Warriors teammates.
"I didn't go in the ocean all of high school," he said. "When I got here, (former Warrior) Brian Beckwith got me out in the water and I loved it. It was like a new thing for me.
"What I like about Sandy's is you really have to push yourself to handle that water."
Just like the push to be the best middle ... for now.