CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Outside hitter Nemanja "Nemo" Komar of Serbia faces the biggest adjustment of his career tonight when the 6-foot-3 outside hitter makes his first start for the Warriors against defending national champion UC Irvine. "He's come in and saved us a couple of times," said teammate Jake Schkud.
Season of adjustments for sophomore Komar
The Serbian outside hitter gets his first start for UH tonight
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The nickname bothered him at first.
After all, not many would care to be considered a cartoon character. But Nemanja "Nemo" Komar has begun to embrace the name of the main character in the movie "Finding Nemo."
No. 8 UC Irvine (10-11, 6-8 MPSF) at No. 14 Hawaii (8-9, 5-7), today and tomorrow, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center; TV: KFVE, Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA-1420-AM
"In the beginning it was, 'Why? It's a cartoon and he's lost,'" the sophomore hitter for the Hawaii men's volleyball team said. "But when I first came here, I was lost, too.
"Nemo was found. Finally, I am too."
Komar finds himself in untested waters tonight. He is scheduled to make his first start when the No. 14 Warriors host No. 8 UC Irvine in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match crucial to both teams.
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It's been an adjustment, moving halfway around the world from home. A major adjustment.
Honolulu is a much bigger and busier place than Stepanovicevo, the Serbian village of some 2,200 that Nemanja "Nemo" Komar calls home. He misses the quiet, rural life and -- especially -- his mother's home cooking.
The quality of American collegiate volleyball also took some getting used to. Komar was late to the game -- not taking up the sport until high school -- and entered the University of Hawaii later than most foreign players, with two years of university credits when he began his global environmental science studies at UH.
Komar faces his biggest adjustment tonight when he makes his first start as a Warrior. The 6-foot-3 outside hitter has been used sparingly in 10 matches, but has played well coming off the bench.
Komar provided a much-needed spark in Hawaii's last victory, a four-game win over then-No. 12 Loyola-Chicago last Friday. He had eight kills and five blocks, including his second solo of his career, against the Ramblers.
"He's come in and saved us a couple of times," Warriors senior opposite Jake Schkud said. "He's a real good team player and his English has gotten better, just like his play.
"I like his overall attitude about the game."
It took a while to convince Komar that volleyball was worth a try. He grew up playing soccer, excelling as a goalie.
An elementary school teacher suggested volleyball "but in order for me to play, I would have had to travel about 20 miles," Komar said. "That would have been hard. But when I got to high school, my class had some volleyball players in it. I thought, 'Why not?'
"I was the worst player but within a year, I was among the top. I had a pretty good vertical and I took advantage of it."
Komar said he continued to practice with hopes of playing in the U.S. Part of the delay in applying was the lack of a recruiting tape.
"Not many people in my area had cameras," he said.
A tape eventually made its way to UH. Komar soon followed, a move helped by having relatives already living in Honolulu.
He redshirted last season and spent most of this year on the bench ... something he didn't mind.
"You have time to see what's going on on the floor and you can help everyone else with making adjustments," he said. "For me, it's easier to do good after coming off the bench."
What has Komar starting tonight is his passing ability.
"He's a better passer than some of the other guys we had out there," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said, "and that is one of our biggest needs. He's getting better and is progressing nicely."
"I admire him," freshman reserve setter Nejc Zemljak said. "He makes progress every practice.
"He's the perfect teammate, works hard, never complains and is always cheerful. He's the most positive guy on the team."
Komar's perspective on life has been shaped by surviving war in his homeland. He's gone through two, including the 1999 NATO bombing where bombs landed 2 miles away from his town.
"As hard as it was to leave, my family was very supportive because they saw the opportunity I had," Komar said. "It was a huge cultural difference. I struggled my first semester but I like it now."
Komar has even gotten used to his nickname: "Nemo."
"It's a cartoon character and it was lost," he said of the title character of the movie "Finding Nemo." "But he was found.
"When I first got here, I was lost, too. I am found."