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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

UH volleyball has plenty left in reserve

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

In a wedding of team unity and personal sacrifice, University of Hawai'i volleyball players Johnny Matt Bender, Kyle Klinger and Eric Kalima are the best men.

They entered training camp in January as projected starters. But because of injuries and other circumstances, each is now a reserve — a potentially difficult turn, particularly as the Warriors, now ranked No. 3 nationally, have won nine in a row.

Still, each has remained supportive, adhering to the vow to never whine and to root-root-root for the home team.

"I know it's hard to be on the bench and to cheer the team on, but these guys always put the team ahead of themselves," said libero Alfee Reft, the team captain. "They've been more than supportive."

Klinger said: "Everybody wants to play, but the team is playing so well and we're all good friends. You can't be mad when your buddies are playing so well."

Indeed, it wasn't too long ago when the roles were reversed. Bender was the Warriors' top returning attacker. Klinger had emerged as an imposing middle blocker. Kalima, after moving from libero, made an easy adjustment to outside hitter, a position he had not played since middle school. In the cauldron system, which rates performances in practices, Kalima scored the most points among the outside hitters during fall training.

But Bender suffered torn ankle ligaments on the second day of training camp. He was added to the active roster three weeks ago, but has not reclaimed the starting job from opposite attacker Lauri Hakala.

Kalima was a part-time starter before suffering back and shoulder injuries when he fell onto a metal railing while chasing an errant shot. In Kalima's absence, José José Delgado, who had struggled with his hitting consistency, became the Warriors' most prolific attacker.

"That's what happens," Kalima said of his injury. "You have to roll with it and always be behind your teammates."

Klinger started UH's first seven matches before being replaced by Mauli'a LaBarre.

Since then, UH has won 10 of 11, a period during which Klinger has played only two times. Bender and Kalima are now designated servers.

"I'm just glad to be part of a team that wins," Bender said. "As an athlete, if you ask for anything more than that, you're just being selfish.

"It's nice to see them out there and getting to live the dream," added Bender, a fifth- year senior. "I've already been out on the court. I got my chance to live the dream. Some of those guys are getting their chance, too."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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