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Set For Success

Setter Joe Worsley goes up for the assist, as a Pepperdine defender moves into position. JAY METZGER PHOTO / UH SPORTS MEDIA RELATIONS

It’s been a record-breaking season thus far for the University of Hawai‘i men’s volleyball team. But head coach Charlie Wade knows the best is yet to come, which is why he insists that his players keep their eyes on the big prize: capturing the NCAA championship.

Hawai‘i loves volleyball. This is a fundamental truth — a fact indisputable by anyone who has made the trek to Stan Sheriff Center to see the ‘Bows in action.

University of Hawai‘i men’s volleyball coach Charlie Wade knows this fact better than most.

“Volleyball is a big deal here,” he says. “People genuinely care about what you do and how your team does. Our sport doesn’t have that everywhere.

University of Hawai‘i men’s volleyball head coach Charlie Wade

“To do what you love and have so many people supportive of you, it’s just an unbelievable position to be in.”

Another thing that’s a big deal this year? The team.

The Rainbow Warriors, as of press time, were heading into senior night as the No. 1 team in the nation — boasting a perfect 23-0 record and a record-breaking 69-set win streak.

For Wade, it has been a 32-year journey to get to this point, with the biggest prize — winning the NCAA tournament — just within reach.

It could be said that Wade got into coaching because of a girl — well, a lot of girls, in a way.

“I was playing at Long Beach City College, and I was dating a girl who had just finished playing in college, and she got hired to coach her (high school) alma mater’s JV team, and so I started helping her coach.

“Fast-forward a year later, we weren’t dating any longer, but the (athletic director) hired me to coach that same team.”

Wade, a longtime club volleyball veteran coach (he founded several mainland clubs), started his collegiate career at Cal State Fullerton as a women’s assistant coach.

In 1995, he got a call from a women’s volleyball coach of some repute.

“Dave Shoji had contacted me to come and train the team. In those days, it was a restricted earnings position. The NCAA allowed you to pay that second assistant $12,000, and he said, ‘I’ll give you $8,000 for the season.’

Middle blocker Dalton Solbrig celebrates a successful rally with libero Gage Worsley.

“I was still coaching club (volleyball) in Southern California, but I came in August of ’95, and what was originally supposed to be for four months has turned out to be a little longer than that.”

Wade spent 11 years as Shoji’s assistant, establishing a reputation as a sharp recruiter and overseeing the development of multiple All-American players.

In that time, he got married to local girl and former University of Washington volleyball player Tani Martin. (They have three children.) He also realized what his ideal career would be: head coach of a volleyball team in Hawai‘i.

“The president of UH — David McClain — and the athletic director — Herman Frazier — both said to me at different social functions we were at: ‘Look, I know you want to be a head coach. Your best bet is to go somewhere else and be a head coach and come back. Put that line on your résumé and get that experience, and you’ll be a more appealing candidate when a head coaching job opens up here.'”

Outside hitter Stijn van Tilburg brings high energy to the court at a recent match.

So Wade did.

He spent three years as head coach of Pacific University’s women’s squad before returning to Hawai‘i in 2010 as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors.

Wade’s philosophy boils down to two maxims.

“Figure out what’s important; focus on what you can control,” he says.

“Not only does that help us win a lot of volleyball games, but we know the (players) leave here with the skillset that is going to help them be successful in all parts of their life, for the rest of their life — and that’s no small thing. That’s something we take very seriously.”

It comes, he says, from watching players struggle to figure out who they are, as well as extensive reading.

This manifests both in an emphasis on professionalism and responsibility, as well as good old-fashioned practice.

“The part that I think that I’ve always believed — and this is why Dave and I worked so well together, and now with the staff that we have — is on individual development and really spending the time to develop the player and the person.”

Outside hitter Brett Rosenmeier gets two hands on the ball during a joust at the net.

Ball touches are important, he says, as is understanding the reasoning behind practicing certain techniques, like blocking or serving.

“There’s a 10,000-hour theory where the guys just have to max out the number of repetitions that they get. The longer I do this, the more true that becomes.

“That really is the difference and why this group is as talented and as efficient as it is — it’s because they’ve totally embraced that.”

Wade isn’t exaggerating about that, either. The team’s seniors — all of whom have spent their entire collegiate careers with Wade in Hawai‘i — echo the effects of his teaching.

“The message starts with him,” says setter Joe Worsley. “We can’t be complacent. Our world here in Hawai‘i, this program, is just different than anywhere else. A lot of people care about what we do, and we’re playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our program, as well.”

Middle blocker Dalton Sol-brig agrees with that sentiment.

“It’s what your goal is: to finish on top. You don’t want to go down for your senior year; you want to represent yourself well and set an example for the guys below you and create a culture for the team.”

Right now, Wade is at the top of his coaching game. He certainly wants to add that NCAA championship title to his belt as much as the players do.

But when asked about his future, he has a ready response.

“I had my first Division I coaching job in 1987, so I’ve been doing this a long time, and I think I understand collegiate athletics intimately, and I enjoy the industry.

“So I think at one point, I would enjoy being an administrator.”

Specifically, he says, he wants to be a mentor to young coaches entering the program, to be able to explain to them things about recruiting or the student-athlete experience or conflict resolution.

All that, however, is in a hypothetical future. Right now, Wade is focused on guiding the team through the Big West Tournament and the NCAA tourney.

“Just enjoy this group of young men that have worked so hard and are really good at what they do,” he says. “Not only have they embraced getting better at volleyball and getting great grades, they genuinely love representing Hawai‘i and they’re playing at a really high level.

“We’re watching something that’s pretty special.”

The Big West Tournament runs April 18-20 at Stan Sheriff Center. Visit hawaiiathletics.com for tickets and schedule.