"A good libero exudes an aura of confidence. It's so much mental. You have to be so aware of what's going on."

Alfred Reft,
UH libero

Alfred Reft.

Playing mind games

Libero Alfred Reft says
mental toughness is as
important as anything
he brings to the court

THERE is a different air surrounding the Hawaii men's volleyball team this season. The Warriors remember last year's disappointing sixth-place finish in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and their early exit in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs.

CS northridge at hawaii

When: Today and Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center.
TV: Both matches live, KFVE (Ch. 5).
Radio: Both matches live, KKEA 1420-AM.
Tickets: $3-$12.
Parking: $3.

"Our team was more than a little embarrassed by our result last year," sophomore setter Brian Beckwith said of the 17-12 finish. "And embarrassment doesn't sit well with anyone, but especially athletes.

"The only reason you play is to win."

In men's volleyball, the keys to winning are passing and serve-receive. That first contact on the serve sets up the offense.

With good passing, there's always a good chance to score. Without it, a team is doomed.

Which makes a libero more than that seventh man, and more than the guy in a different colored jersey. Which makes Alfred Reft a key figure in the Warriors' formula for success.

"A good libero exudes an aura of confidence," Reft said as the Warriors prepared for tonight's MPSF opener against Cal State Northridge. "It's so much mental. You have to be so aware of what's going on.

"It's so important to be as stable as you need to be and to have the team feel you are stable."

His nerves might not be made of steel, but as the defensive captain, Reft knows he can show no fear. His background as setter gave him solid preparation for that as well as his switch to libero at the collegiate level.

The change in the sport has allowed him to become more than just a defensive specialist. He is on the court almost as much as any starter who plays all six rotations.

"And any time you can be on the court more, the better it is," Reft said.

The 5-foot-9 Reft was an unknown when he transferred to Hawaii from UC Santa Barbara after the 2003 season, having redshirted with the Gauchos in 2002 and playing sparingly as a freshman. He had to beat out senior Jake Muise last year and has fended off the strong challenge from sophomore Eric Kalima this year to keep the starting spot.

"What we like about Alfie is he's a good ball-control guy and he's got good volleyball IQ," Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said. "And he's a tremendous second setter. The difference between him and Kalima is that Alfie is a more consistent passer."

As a sophomore, Reft set the UH single-season record for digs in the rally scoring era with 238. He also had 72 assists with no ball-handling errors in being the only Warrior to play in all 114 games last season.

To think that it almost was not to be.

Unhappy with lack of playing time at UCSB, Reft put in a transfer to UCLA. He was going to give up on volleyball.

"I loved the kid, he's got such a big heart and he's a great defensive player," UCSB coach Ken Preston said. "It was a numbers game with us. I hated to see him go."

Alfred Reft, left, came up with a dig next to teammate Matt Bender against Brigham Young on Jan. 7.

Reft sent a tape to Hawaii. About the same time UCLA accepted his transfer, he got a call from the Warriors.

"We never saw him play, but when we talked to Kenny (Preston), we knew Alfie could play," UH associate coach Tino Reyes said. "Kenny said he was too good to be sitting behind (libero Aaron) Mansfield for four years.

"We're glad he came over. He's fit in real nice with the local culture. People have taken a liking to him. He's a home boy now."

It took a while for Reft, who is part Filipino, to get comfortable. L&L Drive-In, adobo, rice and katsu helped the transition, but "being away from home and my family was the hardest thing," said Reft, who grew up in Oxnard, Calif. "I can call Hawaii home now. I'm definitely not sitting on my balcony every night, wishing to go home.

"I feel so embraced by the volleyball community here. I make it a point to never take this for granted and never lose sight of this opportunity. Every day, I'm amazed at how many people care about the team and the sport. At Santa Barbara, we pretty much knew everyone in the stands. It was my mom and my dad, my teammates' moms and dads and relatives, and friends you could talk into coming to see you play."

This past Monday was a first for Reft. He was recognized by a young fan while at Costco in Waipio.

"A little kid came up and asked, 'Do you play for UH men's volleyball?' " Reft said. "When I said, 'Yes,' he told me that he and his family watch me on TV. It was neat, but it was a shock."

So was his first season as a Warrior. But he said that the adjustment period is over.

"Last year, everything was just so new," he said. "This time around, I'm not so wide-eyed. The focus is a lot stronger.

"Of course, every year, we want to go for the championship, but it feels like this is the year to do it. Everyone has it in the back of their mind that we have the potential and depth to do it. We're all on the same page."

Tonight's aim is to turn the page on last season, where they lost twice to the Matadors in Northridge. The Warriors were ranked No. 1 at the time and point to those losses as the start of the team's downward spiral, where they dropped six of eight matches.

"There is a change this year," Reft said. "We have a job to do. We want a (championship) ring and that's the focus. I've seen the maturity on the court that wasn't there last year. This is the year to do it."

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