Schkud manning middle
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
At 6 feet 9, middle blocker Mauli'a LaBarre is the University of Hawai'i's tallest volleyball player.
Because of an 18-month church mission in Russia, LaBarre, who first enrolled at UH in August 2000, has the longest tenure among the Warriors.
Since LaBarre broke into the starting lineup in late January, the Warriors are 8-1, having won seven in a row, the longest current streak in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
For all of those things, LaBarre's reward is the first seat on the bench. "Right now, Jake (Schkud) is ahead of him," said UH coach Mike Wilton, whose team plays UCLA this weekend.
That scenario illustrates the Warriors' depth, as well as Wilton's unwillingness to stand pat.
Supporting the Warriors' motto — "Live in the moment" — Wilton said, "We'll do what's best for the team."
In recent practices, Wilton noted, Schkud has been superior in his block reads, a process that starts by watching an opposing setter's hands and the movements of the offense's attackers.
"That position I define as middle 'blocker,' " Wilton said. "Blocking is the No. 1 responsibility. Whoever does that the best is going to play."
While acknowledging that LaBarre "has done a pretty good job as a blocker," Wilton said, Schkud has moved ahead. "That shows how competitive things are right now," Wilton said.
It also shows the fluidity of the depth chart. Schkud, until the middle of a recent road trip, was a backup outside hitter.
Now, at 6 feet 4, Schkud said, "I'm the smallest middle in the conference."
Schkud was a middle blocker for Loyola High School in Los Angeles, and for UH for parts of last year, after transferring from UC Santa Barbara. He relies on quickness, a powerful vertical jump and play recognition.
"I've been a small middle my whole life," Schkud said. UH's other starting middle is 6-8 Dio Dante.
"I've had to adjust to guys who are Dio's size," he added. "I've had experience. I'm not nervous. I don't have to go out there and prove anything. I have nothing to lose. ... I try to play big. If guys want to come at me as a blocking target, I think — I hope — they're in for a rude awakening."
UH setter Brian Beckwith said: "I don't think (his height) is a big deal. He's just as good as any other middle. I've always thought he was capable of playing middle at this level. That's why he's here."
To paraphrase a Yogi Berra-ism, Schkud was there before he was here. Beckwith and Schkud were recruited as a package deal.
"Hawai'i was my first choice," Schkud said. "I didn't know if I could handle redshirting and being away from my family, because I come from a very close family."
He signed with Santa Barbara, redshirted, and then opted to transfer to UH.
"It was tough to leave," he said. "I left a lot of good friends there. It's definitely a school I like, but it just wasn't where I wanted to be."
Schkud had a limited role last year, and his playing time was cut further this year. He did not play in nine of UH's first 13 matches.
"May the best man play," Schkud said. "That wasn't me. That kind of sucks, coming in knowing you're not going to play. But I'm here to support the team. I'm a team player. If we're winning and I'm on the bench, that's fine with me. Winning is all that matters."
LaBarre, who opened the season as a reserve, also remains upbeat. A more mature outlook, shaped by his time in Russia — "I appreciate the small things, like running water" — has brought perspective. "I know it's my last year, and I'm trying to have fun," LaBarre said. "As long as we're playing hard, I'm having fun."
WAHINE TICKETS ON SALE
Tickets go on sale tomorrow for the women's volleyball exhibition between UH and Wisconsin next Wednesday. First serve is at 7 p.m. at Stan Sheriff Center.
Tickets will be available at the SSC box office, online at etick ethawaii.com or by phone (944-2697).
Admission is $10 in the lower bowl and $6 (adult), $5 (senior citizens and Super Rooters) and $3 (students) upper bowl.
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.