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Asuka handles the heat

Colleges

May 09, 2006|By BARRY FAULKNER

Brent Asuka came to UC Irvine because he wanted to be a doctor or a dentist. Instead, the 5-foot-11 freshman became a firefighter for the Anteater men's volleyball team.

As the team's libero ? a defensive specialist introduced for the 2000 season ? Asuka is asked to pass serves and dig spikes. In collegiate volleyball, this amounts to dousing flames disguised as diving jump serves, or plummeting projectiles sent over the net by near-seven footers swinging as hard as they can. The latter, if successful, has a technical term. It is called a kill. Not a point, not a winner, but a kill.

Asuka's view to these would-be kills is usually from between 10 and 20 feet away, with teammates often leaping and/or darting in front of him trying to get a piece of the ball themselves.

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From this proximity, there is seldom time to square the ball between upturned forearms, the textbook passing technique coaches teach. Sometimes, Asuka must merely thrust an appendage into the path of the ball, trying to somehow deflect it toward his setter, who then initiates a similar attack toward the opponent's side of the net. There are also times when even the most basic reaction ? that of self-preservation ? is overcome by the speed of the approaching leather ball.

"I got hit in the face for the first time this season," said Asuka, whose position is so specialized ? liberos can't play in the front row or hit a ball when it is higher than the imaginary horizontal plane from the top of the net ? they are required to wear a different color jersey than their teammates. "It was against Hawaii in my hometown. Your adrenaline is so high, it doesn't hurt a lot, but it still stings. Your face goes numb and you can't see out of one eye, sometimes. But mostly, it hurts your ego."

It is quickness and instincts that separate the top liberos, of which Asuka has been deemed. He was named first-team All-American and National Newcomer of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches' Assn., after being named first-team All-MPSF, and conference Newcomer of the Year.

"When I came here, Speraw told me we were a libero away from being a good team," said Asuka, who was recommended to Speraw by his high school coach in Hawaii.

Speraw tried to evaluate Asuka's skills by watching hours of videotape, but the process was rendered all but moot because high school opponents refused to serve the then-defenisve specialist.

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