Asuka no newcomer to proving his worth
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leila Wai
It seems like all Brent Asuka has been doing recently is fighting his way onto one volleyball team or another.
Asuka, the AVCA Division I-II Newcomer of the Year and an AVCA All-America first-team selection, started the season as a walk-on hoping to make the travel squad at UC Irvine.
The 5-foot-11 libero and 2005 Iolani graduate ended it as one of the best defensive players in the country, ranking third in NCAA Division I-II in digs with 3.08 per game. He recorded at least 10 digs in 19 of 31 matches.
"When I came (to Irvine) I was just trying to get on the team," Asuka said. "It made me work harder and want it more. It made me hungry to try to play."
This summer he'll have to prove himself again, when he attends the junior national team camp and tries to make its travel roster.
His competition for the libero position is none other than Kamehameha Schools junior Jordan Inafuku, a mainstay on the junior national team along with Iolani senior Kawika Shoji and Punahou junior Spencer McLachlin.
Asuka tried out for the team two months ago. It was his third tryout and first selection. Camp starts in July in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Just going back to the whole one-year college experience, the maturity helps a lot and I hope it gives me an advantage," said Asuka, who made the roster of 18 and will try to make the cut of 12.
Having already been in a similar situation is another plus. After being left off a preseason travel roster, Asuka worked his way into the starting lineup by the beginning of the season. By its end, he was named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Newcomer of the Year and received first-team all-conference honors.
"It felt like all of my hard work my whole volleyball life paid off," he said.
The award he's most proud of is being named the AVCA Newcomer of the Year because "no libero has gotten it before. That and the first team, because I always dreamed of making first team."
Asuka made his way onto the UC Irvine roster after an unheralded career at Iolani, on the recommendation of Peter Greenhill, who is affiliated with the school.
"Peter said (Asuka) is someone I needed to take a look at, he's a great player and a great kid," UCI coach John Speraw said. "And he was right on both counts."
Asuka's biggest honor in high school was as an Interscholastic League of Honolulu honorable-mention selection, which was "a good and bad thing, not getting recognized," he said. "It made me lose confidence in myself. Liberos don't get recognized. The good part about it is that it made me work really, really hard."
Speraw said the biggest difference in Asuka's game was his improvement in passing.
"His digging had always been exceptional, but his passing needed to improve," Speraw said. "He worked on his passing and got it to the point where it was as good as his digging."
Asuka has always been a quick learner in volleyball, possibly because of his background playing sports. He grew up playing soccer and baseball, and began playing volleyball as an eighth-grader at Iolani.
He stopped playing the other two sports, deciding instead to focus on volleyball, against the wishes of his parents.
"I figured baseball and soccer wouldn't help me get into college and volleyball would help me the most," Asuka said. "I guess my parents wanted me to stick with baseball and soccer, and I think they thought I would regret quitting. I don't really regret it too much, because I'm happy where I am and happy with volleyball."
Speraw said Asuka's role as a floor leader should increase in the future.
"Any freshman that comes into a situation where there's a bunch of incumbents and a good team, they take care of their own role on the team," Speraw said. "But it's very apparent that Brent is a real competitor and over time he'll grow into a leader on the team. It wasn't his role this year, but in time I'm sure it will be."
Reach Leila Wai at firstname.lastname@example.org.