It'll be aloha ball for six Warriors this weekend
BY Stephen Tsai
Yes, a Dragon has feelings.
And to prove his love for the Islands was more than skin deep, Hawai'i volleyball middle blocker Matt "Dragon" Rawson did something that was skin deep.
He etched a tattoo of the Hawaiian islands on his right foot.
"I love being out here and spending time here," Rawson said. "I love this place."
Rawson, middle blocker Steven Grgas, liberos Ric Cervantes and Justin Ching, and outside hitters Joe Strotman and Ernie Vidinha will play their final regular-season home matches this weekend.
The Warriors, who face UC San Diego tomorrow night and Saturday night, can clinch a berth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation's eight-team postseason with a sweep.
After overcoming surgeries to both shoulders, Rawson has regained his stature as one of the league's premier middle blockers.
He will earn a bachelor's degree in American Studies next month, participate in a volleyball program this summer, then pursue a professional career in Europe next year.
While Rawson has changed hairstyles, he said, "I don't think I've changed much. Maybe a little wise, since I've gotten older. I'm still the same guy, I think."
Grgas signed with UH because of Hawai'i's beaches and volleyball community.
"It's been an interesting five years," Grgas said. "I never had one friend (in Hawai'i) when I came out here, but what I've gone through so far has been amazing."
Next month, Grgas will graduate with a degree in communications.
Cervantes is a fourth-year starter who did not redshirt.
"The four years have gone by really fast," he said. "I never thought I'd see this (final home) match. I thought it would be later. I'm at a loss for words. It is what it is."
As the libero, Cervantes wears a different-colored jersey from his teammates during matches. But he always has stood out for his vocal and courageous leadership. His teammates selected him as captain.
"I learned a lot about myself moving out here," said Cervantes, who was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif. "Through the good and the bad, this has been the best decision I've made in my life. Playing here is the ultimate experience. Nobody can say otherwise. This is the place to play. If I were a recruit, and I wanted to play volleyball and get treated the way I've been treated, I'd definitely pick Hawai'i. Everything you could want is right here."
Cervantes will complete work on his bachelor's degree this summer. He is majoring in economics.
Ching also will be earning a degree in economics next month. Although he has played sparingly, Ching is a popular teammate, as well as a skilled athlete.
"It's sad and fun at the same time," Ching said of this weekend's matches. "It's fun because I'm going to go on to something new, but it's sad because I'm going to leave the team. It's been a great adventure."
Vidinha's UH career was supposed to have ended two years ago when he suffered a back injury that made it difficult to jump. A comeback as a libero did not materialize, and it was presumed he had "retired" last year.
But through an extensive rehabilitation program, Vidinha is now relatively healthy and pain-free. And his improved health enabled him to rejoin the Warriors as an outside hitter.
"I was always looking forward to playing again after I got hurt," said Vidinha, who earns a degree in kinesiology next month. "I'm happy to be playing with these guys."
Strotman, who transferred from a junior college two years ago, embraced his utility role. He was a part-time starter at the end of the 2009 season, earning the MPSF's Player of the Week Award. This season, his playing time was limited because of an injury. He now is fully healed.
Of accepting his role, Strotman said, "That comes with playing a team sport. It's not like tennis, where the only person you rely on is yourself. It's not just the guys on the court who make us better, it's everyone. ... When you come to play a team sport, you have to realize you have to be OK with never playing a second or being the guy who everyone counts on."
Strotman will earn a degree in economics next month.
"I've really enjoyed it here," he said. "It's a fun atmosphere."