Warriors' China likes role of 'teammate' best


POSTED: Friday, January 30, 2009

It would be an interesting twist on senior night for the Hawaii volleyball team: two of the Warriors seniors having a little 1-on-1 in front of a couple thousand of their closest friends.




CS Northridge (6-0, 3-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) at Hawaii (1-6, 0-4), 7 p.m. today and tomorrow; TV: KFVE, Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM


Once and for all, setter Sean Carney and libero Mike China could decide who is the better basketball player. China (Punahou '04) was the Division II player of the year in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu; Carney ('Iolani '04) played on three of the Raiders' state championship basketball teams.

“;We'll have to decide it at some point,”; China said. “;Sean is so athletically gifted.”;

Carney matches the shot.

“;Mikey is one of the most athletic guys we have,”; Carney said. “;He has no fear.”;

The 5-foot-10 China proved that last fall when Hawaii needed him to play outside hitter—his position in high school—at the Thunderball tournament in British Columbia.

“;He put up some pretty good numbers,”; said Warriors coach Mike Wilton.

China more than proved it when being pressed into duty at libero last week at Brigham Young, replacing the ailing Ric Cervantes. China played in five-plus sets over the two nights, seeing more court time than in his past two seasons combined as a serving specialist.

“;The biggest thing was, on the second night (Friday), preparing to play for a full match,”; said China, who replaced Cervantes during Set 2 on Thursday.

The Warriors who didn't make the traveling roster watched the match. Said junior Justin Ching, the team's No. 3 libero, “;Mikey stepped up and did a good job. He's a good team player, shows enthusiasm, leadership and energy. He's got a good work ethic.”;

As intimidating as last weekend may have been for China, he considers one situation even more so: when he was asked to try out for the Warriors three years ago after a circuitous journey that included a stop in Illinois.

China and Carney began their careers at Lewis, rooming at the Division II school in Romeoville, Ill. But when the Flyers were put on probation for recruiting violations—subsequently vacating the 2003 NCAA title—Carney left after the fall semester, transferring to Hawaii.

China stayed, playing in 42 sets as a defensive specialist, and earning Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association all-academic honors.

“;I was really homesick, it was really cold, and I wanted to leave when Sean did,”; China said. “;I had a lot of conversations with my parents. They thought it was in my best interests to stay for another semester.

“;Even though we weren't playing for anything (banned from the postseason), we were still competitive athletes. But after everything we went through that season, it took the fun out of playing volleyball.”;

China left Lewis, convinced he was done with playing competitively. He was helping out at Punahou, coaching intermediate boys volleyball, when Carney called to say the Warriors needed another libero.

“;I walked into the gym and didn't know how I was going to handle it,”; China said. “;I was going from tossing balls at high school practice to the speed of guys like Lauri (Hakala) and Dio (Dante) hitting at me. It was quite an adjustment to the speed.”;

China stuck ... and has stuck it out.

“;He's been a gift, just a real team guy,”; Wilton said. “;I really like his attitude. He's very athletic and has a lot of ability.

“;He's pushed Ric every season for that starting job. Ric has just rated out better in passing. But Mike did an excellent job (at BYU).”;

“;I was really happy for him, he played well,”; Cervantes said. “;We're good friends and he's a good guy, on and off the court.

“;We both know it's not personal. It's volleyball.”;

China's disappointment isn't over lack of playing time as much as it is how the 12th-ranked Warriors have started the season. Hawaii (1-6, 0-4 MPSF) takes a six-match losing streak into tonight's contest against No. 2 Cal State Northridge (6-0, 3-0).

“;We haven't had the start that we wanted to, but we have time to turn it around,”; he said. “;We all feel we're better than our record. We've been in games, we've had chances to win, but we're doing things to hurt ourselves.

“;It's like two years ago when we played a lot of good teams up front and made a good run to get into the playoffs. As long as we practice hard and have a good attitude, there's always the possibility to turn it around.”;

The pride is there, playing for Hawaii, China said. He remembers being in the Stan Sheriff Center during the heyday of Warriors volleyball, the crowds who packed it to see Yuval Katz and Aaron Wilton.

China's legacy might not be as memorable, but it is valuable.

“;All I focus on is supporting the guys when they need it,”; he said. “;It's hard to do it in the role I have, but whatever I can do to be a good teammate is what I want to do.”;

That, and proving once and for all who is the better basketball player.