You wouldn’t know by merely watching that Brett Sheward was playing his first career match as the starting setter for the home team in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Sheward, a redshirt freshman, was in firm command of the Hawaii offense as the No. 1 Rainbow Warriors swept No. 14 Concordia Irvine 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 on Friday night, setting up a de facto championship match against No. 4 UC Irvine for the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Invitational title on Saturday.
Jakob Thelle got the starting nod through UH’s season-opening five-match homestand, but when the ‘Bows got off to slow starts in two road matches against ranked foes last month, the shorter Sheward (he’s 6-foot-2) came on in relief and ably directed the show both times.
Patience was required to see him work as “the guy” in person in the islands. Sheward, a former CIF Division 2 Player of the Year from Newport Beach, Calif., was one of the referees during the UH alumni match two weeks ago while other ‘Bows actually played. He sat on Thursday as UH easily swept Queens, with many of the team’s backups getting extended court time. But Friday was his chance to show the home crowd how far he’d come.
“It was awesome. Fun to get back out there for sure and compete,” Sheward said. “We passed pretty well tonight, so it made it easy. We’ve got weapons at every position. Colt (Cowell, 15 kills) and Rado (Parapunov, 17) played great. Everyone had a great overall match.”
Dimitrios Mouchlias puts away #HawaiiMVB’s second match point in a 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 sweep of No 14 Concordia Irvine.
No. 4 UC Irvine tomorrow night for the Outrigger Hotels Invitational title. pic.twitter.com/ZwEZ3apXRv
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) February 8, 2020
All five primary attackers pretty much had their way, with Patrick Gasman, Filip Humler and Guilherme Voss combining for 22 kills. The rapport with their delivery man was apparent. He finished the night with 49 assists, a season high for any UH setter.
For some comparison, last year’s All-America setter Joe Worsley — one of the program’s best ever at the position — eclipsed 49 assists only twice in 2019. Sheward was among his backups sitting the whole year.
“I like him a lot. He’s pretty consistent with me in the middle,” Gasman said. “And he kind of reminds me of Joe a little bit. A shorter guy who’s able to just dish it along the net and I can kind of pick it off where I want. It’s working well.”
Gasman was quick to add that he’s confident in all three of the team’s setters, including Jackson Van Eekeren.
Friday night was also one of the first times that “Shewie”, as he’s nicknamed, had to handle media requests. The match wasn’t televised, but he went on the radio with ESPN Honolulu’s Tiff Wells afterward and navigated a video interview request from at least one pesky reporter (maybe next time).
Speaking of new kinds of attention, how did he handle playing in front of the crowd of 3,284?
“My teammates do a really good job and just communicating helps me a lot. If I’m nervous or whatever,” Sheward said. “Focusing on the game is really important for me. And just talking, like I said. Pat does a really good job of that too. So, we’re in it together.”
Gasman said: “He’s an extremely resilient person. If there’s anyone who’s down to always get reps, it’s him.”
Sheward and Gasman both pointed to the service game as something to tighten up heading into the 7 p.m. UC Irvine contest; they had 13 service errors against Concordia to three for their opponent.
The Irvine match doesn’t count in the Big West standings, but it is the highest-ranked opponent UH has faced thus far, so it’s a chance at a quality resume-building win.
“It’s a big test for us. Glad they’re coming out and playing. They’re a really good team. So we gotta come out and perform,” Sheward said.