[ UH VOLLEYBALL ]
RONEN ZILBERMAN / RZILBERMAN@STARBULLETIN. COM
Hawaii freshman Brian Beckwith, once a nationally ranked longboard surfer, has had a successful first season as the No. 3-ranked Warriors' starting setter. The 6-foot-6 Beckwith is the tallest setter in the history of the Hawaii program and is averaging 13.29 assists per game. He said he's yet to feel nervous in his role as a starter. "For me, there's anticipation but never any nervousness,"Beckwith said. "It's awesome to play here."
Catching the wave
Brian Beckwith’s freshman season
on the UHvolleyball team has been
quite a ride
EDDIE would go.
So would Brian.
Just as the late famed big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau kept seeking the perfect wave, Brian Beckwith knew he'd have to choose which sport would give him the perfect ride. Surfing would always be there but volleyball ... there was a limited opportunity to catch that.
Beckwith went with his gut feeling, just as he did when deciding on a college. Volleyball and Hawaii. It's been the perfect tandem so far for the former nationally ranked youth longboard surfer.
The 6-foot-6 freshman is the tallest setter in the history of Warrior volleyball. He's literally had the fate of No. 3 Hawaii in his hands from the opening serve of the season, starting all six matches so far.
There's been a few gnarly moments during the first month but, for the most part, Beckwith has kept his balance. His seventh start is scheduled for tonight when the Warriors (4-2) take on No. 10 Ball State at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I think it's going pretty well," said Beckwith, averaging 13.29 assists per game. "People always ask if I'm nervous, but I've always been pretty confident in my team's ability and my ability every time we go into a game. I feel confident that our team will always do well and play their hardest.
"For me, there's anticipation but never any nervousness. It's awesome to play here. And I've played in similar (pressure) situations."
HIGH-LEVEL VOLLEYBALL is nothing new. Beckwith has been the starting setter for the USA Youth National Team the past two summers and last spring led Loyola (Los Angeles) High School to the CIF championship. The Cubs went 20-0, claiming the mythical national high school title awarded by Volleyball Magazine; Beckwith was named the L.A. Times Player of the Year.
There was no disputing that he was the top setter coming out of high school, but thanks to a little surfing -- on the Internet -- Beckwith's desire to play at Hawaii came to the attention of the Warriors coaching staff.
"For some reason, I ended up looking at RollShot.com and read his profile," UH associate head coach Tino Reyes said. "We weren't really looking for a setter, but I told Coach (Mike Wilton) that this kid was going to be one of those setters who comes along maybe every 10 years. He's the No. 1 setter in the country and he's interested in Hawaii. We had to try for him.
"I think he's even better than advertised. The bad thing is I don't know if there's ever been a freshman setter who's led his team to the national title. If that's true, that doesn't bode well for us. But maybe he's the special player who could do it."
Wilton likes what he's seen so far.
"He's still a freshman, not two ways around that," the Hawaii coach said. "But he keeps getting better and better. Volleyball is real important to him and he's just scratching the surface of his potential.
"He's the consummate team player and from Day 1 he's been the 'hat-in-hand, I'm Brian, I'm new, I want to learn' kind of guy. I remember telling him after the Outrigger (Tournament) awards ceremony when he didn't make the (all-tournament) team that I felt he deserved it. He said, 'Thanks, but that's not what I'm about.' That is special."
CIRCUMSTANCES HELPED PUT Beckwith into the starting spot. Senior setter Kimo Tuyay had been sidelined with a sprained ankle and then a sore knee since fall and did not get into a match until Game 3 last Friday against UC San Diego.
"The injuries obviously set Kimo back and Brian is ahead of him right now," Wilton said. "We'll never know if Brian would have won the job if Kimo had been healthy.
"But having a taller setter (Tuyay and sophomore Daniel Rasay are both 6-2) gets you into your offense quick. He can save a lot of tight passes at the net and the ball gets to the hitters quicker. There's also the blocking issue."
Beckwith has 19 blocks so far, third behind middle blockers Mauli'a LaBarre (28) and Josh Stanhiser.
"He can do things physically that our other setters can't do," Reyes said. "Plus he's got a good disposition for the job. He's very even-keeled."
And very laid-back. He describes himself as the typical surfer who began playing volleyball whenever the conditions were flat.
"My family has always hung out at the beach, that was our lifestyle," said Beckwith, who was raised in the Los Angeles beach community of Pacific Palisades. "My friends and I would skateboard down the hill with our boards. I've been surfing since I was young, standing up on my bodyboard when I was probably 6, started competing at 11 and had sponsors.
"I kept on competing pretty much every other weekend until my junior year (in high school) and that's when volleyball started to take off for me. I knew that at one point I'd have to make a decision. I figured that volleyball had a farther reach for me."
MAKING THE OLYMPIC team is the goal for Beckwith, who has been in the USA Volleyball high performance pipeline since he was 14. This summer, the 18-year-old likely will be the setter for the U.S. junior national team.
"I still have a lot to work on to get to the Olympics," he said. "But I think I have a shot."
Beckwith brought his longboard with him, but hasn't had much of a chance to catch some waves.
"School's going well, but it is tough adjusting to the whole student-athlete lifestyle," he said. "There's not much time for surfing with classes and volleyball. Some days it's hard to find time to eat.
"I haven't decided on a major, but I'm not worried. I don't stress out about most things. Everything has seemed to fall in place so far and I think that's a pretty good way to attack life, taking it as it comes to me."
Just like catching a wave.
Notes: For the remainder of the home season, the first 100 UH students will receive free admission in the upper level when presenting a valid student ID card. The tickets are available at the arena box office only on game days. ... The Warriors moved up one spot to No. 3 in the USA Today/AVCA men's poll released yesterday. UCLA (8-1), which defeated previously undefeated Pepperdine last week, replaced the Waves as the No. 1 team. Pepperdine (6-1) dropped to second with former No. 2 Long Beach State (7-3) falling all the way to sixth after two losses to BYU. Hawaii's two wins over UC San Diego last week knocked the Tritons out of the Top 15. ... Hawaii is on the CSTV Spikes nationally televised schedule three times this season, on a week-delayed basis. CSTV will show one of the UH-UCLA matches on March 3, one of the UH-BYU matches on March 25 and one of the UH-UC Irvine matches on April 15. The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match is scheduled for a same-day broadcast on May 1.