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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sky-Walker now starring on left side

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.com Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawai'i's Joshua Walker hit against UC Irvine's Ryan Ammerman in a match last season. UH opens its season tomorrow.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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To make things right, Hawai'i volleyball player Joshua Walker was moved to the left.

It is the Warrior coaches' belief that as an L-1 primary left-side hitter that Walker will emerge as a dominant offensive player. The Warriors open the season against Ohio State tomorrow in the three-day Outrigger Hotels Invitational.

"He has the ability," associate head coach Tino Reyes said. "We're going to give him the ball."

In this role, Walker will hit from the left side in his three front-row turns.

"He's very comfortable over there," Reyes said.

Most significant, Walker now is a threat when he is in the back-row rotation. In two turns, he will be available to hit the D set (back right) and the "bic" (a quick set to the middle).

"If we're running a good offense, the D ball is an easy way to get kills," Walker said. "It's pretty much going to be one-on-one with a lot of the hits. A good set on a D ball can do some damage."

A loft is the preferred set to the back right, which fits Walker's leaping ability.

Walker has a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump, and can touch 11 feet 5, a half-inch shy of Steven Grgas' team best. But Grgas, a middle blocker, is 6-7. Walker is 6-1.

Walker said the bic play works in tandem with the UH middle blocker, who serves as a decoy.

"When the middle gets (a blocker) to jump, the net is just wide open," Walker said.

Walker is being used the same way the Warriors used Costas Theocharidis, a four-time All-America player and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation's career leader in kills. Theocharidis also hit exclusively from the front left and, like Walker, had limited duties as a passer.

"Josh is really good on the left," UH head coach Mike Wilton said. "That's what Costas was like."

Walker admittedly struggles with his passing. But he spent the past summer playing beach volleyball in Virginia, where he was raised, in an attempt to improve his passing.

"I'm still working on that," he said, smiling. "I'm not giving up on passing, by any means."

With the addition of two accurate passers freshmen Gus Tuaniga and Steven Hunt UH was able to craft a role for Walker that involves a sliver of passing.

That will allow Walker, who averaged a team-high 3.75 kills per game as a second-year freshman in 2008, more scoring opportunities. It is an expectation that Walker embraces.

When he competed for his Junior Olympic team, he recalled, "I remember watching a player from Six Pack. He was getting set every ball. I was, like, 'Wow,' and they won. I thought, if I could be that kind of player, who can be anywhere on the court and still get kills, that's exactly what I want to work on."

In high school, Walker worked on jumping drills in a quest to dunk a basketball.

At UH, he spends the offseason trying to improve his strength. He said he gains about five pounds every year. This past year, he gained an additional five pounds through weight training, and now weighs 185 pounds. He is capable of power-cleaning his weight "20 times in a row."

He also forces himself to do grueling squat lifts.

"I cannot stand them," he said, smiling, "but you have to do them to jump better."

Reyes said: "He's become a very good player."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.