HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY OF PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY
Making the move from Hawaii to Pepperdine was easy for Eric Liebert, a 2004 Punahou grad. "It's not Hawaii, but it's close," he said.
Liebert finds home away from home at Pepperdine
STORY SUMMARY »
| READ THE FULL STORY
He's a typical local boy going to school on the mainland. Misses plate lunches, saimin and warm ocean water for body surfing.
But Eric Liebert's adjustment to college life has been easier than most. The Punahou ('04) product landed in Malibu, Calif., where the redshirt junior middle is second in block average for the Pepperdine volleyball team.
Just as Pepperdine fit Liebert's college needs - "Great school, great volleyball program, great coach, great location," he said - so, too, does his choice of sports.
"I played baseball, but it was too slow," Liebert said. "Volleyball seemed to connect with me a lot better."
Liebert gets a little taste of home today and tomorrow when Pepperdine hosts Hawaii.
FULL STORY »
There was very little adjustment to college life on the mainland. After all, how hard could the transition be going from Hawaii to Malibu, Calif.?
For Eric Liebert (Punahou '04), choosing Pepperdine was pretty easy.
"Great school, great location, great volleyball," Liebert said. "And Marv (Pepperdine coach Dunphy) is a world-renowned coach.
"It's really nice to be near the beach. I don't think I could have gone cold turkey, not being by the water. It's not Hawaii, but it's close. Everything was a perfect fit for me."
The hard part has been fitting in on the court. Liebert, a 6-foot-5 middle, redshirted as a freshman in 2005, the year the Waves won their fifth NCAA volleyball title.
Injuries limited his playing time the past two years. This season, Liebert has been sharing starting time in the middle with 6-9 freshman Tyler Jaynes for No. 5 Pepperdine (12-9, 11-9 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation).
Although considered undersized for his position, Liebert has the second-best block average on the team (1.26). He came off the bench late against Pacific on March 29, putting down three kills in five swings and laying out for an impressive dig in the back row as the Waves won in five games.
"I enjoy playing defense, getting solid digs so that it can lead to a kill," said the 200-pound Liebert, who has gained 40 pounds since high school. "I feel that I've grown volleyball-wise during the past few years with volleyball. I think I'm a smarter player, am more aware of what's going on.
"And I think I've improved my blocking. I don't feel as rushed. I'm calmer and moving more efficiently."
Liebert is hoping to show off his improvement tonight and tomorrow against No. 13 Hawaii. The Warriors, out of playoff contention, finish their season at Firestone Fieldhouse. The fifth-ranked Waves are looking to earn the No. 4 seed and host an MPSF quarterfinal on April 19.
The matches reunite Liebert with his Outrigger Canoe Club 18s team setter, the Warriors' Sean Carney. The two were named All-Americans at the 2004 Junior Olympics.
"It will be good to see Sean," Liebert said. "It's always good to see friends across the net. We're competitors but when the game is over, we're still friends."
To Carney, there is no rivalry. It's not Iolani (Carney) vs. Punahou (Liebert), not Hawaii vs. Pepperdine.
"It's more like teammates who happen to be in different places," Carney said. "I'll always look at him as a teammate, even though he's on the opposing team.
"Eric was one of the easiest people to play with, not just because of his athletic ability, but because of his mentality on the court. Our 18s team was one of the funnest times I've had in volleyball and Eric made it that way. He has a fun personality but also brings a competitive fire. I respect him as a volleyball player. He's undersized for a middle but utilizes his assets."
Liebert's athleticism is what caught Dunphy's eye.
"The first thing I noticed was how he moved along the net," the Pepperdine coach said. "He's a good quick-hitter and blocks well.
"He's been a spark plug for us. I think he's improved his hitting, he's at .377, and doing everything you want a player to do. Plus, he's a good kid, a good student, always upbeat, has a great wit. He's the whole package."
It's in the genes. Liebert's father, Bruce, began playing volleyball as a graduate student at Stanford and, after moving to Hawaii in 1977, competed in rec leagues.
"We always had a volleyball around the house," said Bruce Liebert, the associate dean of the college of engineering at the University of Hawaii. "Eric started at age 10 and had the opportunity to play for Outrigger and Punahou. It was (Punahou coach) Peter Balding who suggested he look at Pepperdine."
Eric looked at and was looked at by a number of schools, including Hawaii, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego. Pepperdine had the right combination of volleyball, location and curriculum (finance).
Although Liebert was a redshirt freshman, he was in uniform and went through pre-match warm-ups before the Waves rallied to beat host UCLA for the 2005 NCAA title. The victory earned Pepperdine a trip to the White House for the annual NCAA Champions Day and a photo opportunity with President Bush.
"It was amazing, being there in the center of where everything goes on," Liebert said of the trip to Washington, D.C. "Hopefully, we can do it again."