In the University of Hawaii’s Gym I, the three volleyball courts have the same measurements. But the so-called "third court," to be sure, is set in another dimension.
The first two courts are where players on the UH men’s team’s active roster practice and scrimmage. The third court is reserved for redshirts and developmental players.
"It’s really frustrating," outside hitter Joshua Walker said of his time as a third-court player as a nonscholarship freshman in 2007. "You want to play, but as a redshirt, you have to take the year. That’s hard, especially when you’re used to playing every day."
Third-court players usually arrive 30 minutes before the start of practice to set up the nets and mop the floors.
"That year was hard," Walker said, "but it definitely helped me. I learned a lot."
Walker broke into the rotation as a freshman in 2008, leading the Warriors in kills (300). The next year, he was the team’s top attacker (4.23 kills per set). He upped his average to 4.32 kills per set last year.
This year, Walker and setter Nejc Zemljak are the team captains. The ascent to those leadership roles, head coach Charlie Wade said, was "organic. They kind of evolved on their own."
Wade said there was no vote.
"They were the guys taking charge and helping out," said Wade, whose Warriors opened training camp yesterday morning. The choices were "logical."
Wade acknowledged that Walker’s development, from a walk-on from Virginia Beach, Va., should be an example for the younger players.
Walker, who is 6 feet 1, always had the skills — 44-inch vertical jump, a powerful right arm that can launch 65-mph serves — but not the accuracy nor the repertoire. An admittedly inaccurate passer, Walker often was shielded from receiving serves early in his career. As a sophomore, he was asked to pass in only one rotation.
But during the summer of 2009, he worked on his passing while playing beach volleyball. His improved footwork allowed him to get into better passing position. UH has a 3-point scale for measuring passing accuracy, with 3 being the high score. Walker often had 2.5 passes last year.
Early on, Walker also struggled to vary his shots. Last year, he worked on mixing line, angle and roll shots. His hitting percentage increased from .239 in 2009 to .310 last year.
"I want to move the ball around, and cut down on my errors," Walker said.
Walker knows that younger teammates are watching.
"I’ve always wanted to be one of those players who leads by example," Walker said. "This year, I’m trying to be more vocal of what I expect of the team."
Part of a captain’s duty is to be the debate speaker on controversial calls.
"I’m not really a guy who likes to argue with the refs," Walker said. "I’m pretty much like, ‘Next play.’ I expect bad calls to happen. Nejc doesn’t accept them."
Zemljak said: "Let’s hope there are only good calls so there won’t be any debating needed."