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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 14, 2008

Can you dig it? Cervantes a better fit in Warrior rotation

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.com Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ric Cervantes

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What: UH (3-6 overall, 2-4 MPSF) vs. UCLA (9-4, 6-3)

When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m. both nights

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

TV/Radio: KFVE-TV (ch. 5)/ESPN 1420AM live.

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On this Valentine's Day, all is well with University of Hawai'i volleyball player Ric Cervantes.

That is in contrast to two weeks ago, when Cervantes was replaced as the Warriors' libero. The demotion came during a road match against UC Santa Barbara.

"It was in front of my parents," said Cervantes, who was raised in Santa Barbara. "I was really frustrated."

The move served as motivation.

"I felt I had something to prove again," said Cervantes, a sophomore. "It made my fire go. It made me work harder. That's fine. I like that."

Cervantes' improved work was noticeable, and he was back with the first team during practices this week. He is expected to start against UCLA tonight and tomorrow night in the Stan Sheriff Center.

"Coach (Mike Wilton) wasn't testing him, he was testing the system," setter Sean Carney said. "There was nothing bad against Ric. We're a young team, so we had to check what we had. We had to see what works together the best. We looked at it as, 'what's going to help our team?' Ric took it that way, and it's going to make us a better team in the long run."

Indeed, Cervantes was part of the experiment in which the responsibilities were redistributed. To ease the duties on outside hitters Joshua Walker and Jake Schkud, the libero was asked to take on an expanded role as a passer. If the back row were divided into quarters, Cervantes would be in charge of the middle quarters.

"The whole new offense we're running kind of puts Ric passing the majority of the court," Schkud said. "He's our best passer, so the smartest thing was to move him to the middle and give him more responsibility. He's doing a good job."

Schkud added: "It does take a lot to do what he does. I trust Ric a lot. There are certain times in serve-receive when I look at Ric and I say, 'Hey, Ric, even if the guy serves me, I'm getting out of the way.' A lot of times he's passing half the court. It takes a good athlete to do that."

Cervantes gained the starting libero's job during the Warriors' stretch run last season. That experience helped him adjust to the speed of the college volleyball game.

During the summer, he hit the beach East Beach in Santa Barbara where he played daily. He worked out with top beach volleyball players such as Dax Holdren, Anthony Medel and Fred Souza.

Beach volleyball is "my first love," Cervantes said. "It's fun doing every aspect of the game setting, hitting, defense and blocking."

Under a workout program created by his brother, a personal trainer, Cervantes performed mostly agility drills.

"It's all speed and positioning," he said.

The confidence came naturally.

"The system we're in means I have more responsibilities," Cervantes said. "I like that. I want to contribute to the team. I'm all for it."

While Cervantes has always been accurate passing serves, he has become consistent in finding Carney raised forearms' length high off free balls.

"They're always going to the same spot," Carney said. "He's a great passer."

Off the court, Cervantes needed help making passes. Enter outside hitter Jim Clar, who served as a matchmaker.

"I thought they'd look good together," said Clar, who decided to pair up Cervantes and Rainbow Wahine volleyball setter Stephanie Brandt. "I told her to go up and say something to embarrass him. Ever since, they've been dating."

Cervantes said: "That's the Valentine's special for you. Jimbo was the matchmaker. It's all Jimbo's doing."

Visit Tsai's blog at www.HawaiiWarriorBeat.com.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.