By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kamehameha senior Ryan Thomas has a mind that is always at work, analyzing situations, finding solutions and plugging holes as fast as he can.
The 5-foot-11 libero does more than just dive on the volleyball floor to dig up balls. His analytical and technical skills are on par and equally sharp, a reason he made the All-Big Island Interscholastic Federation Blue Division first team.
That combination also landed him a scholarship to Mount Olive College, a Division II school in North Carolina, which annually plays nonconference Division I powers like Penn State, Lewis and Ball State.
Thomas, who graduated with a 3.0 grade-point average, received an athletic and academic package that amounts to more than half of a full scholarship. He plans to major in business management or criminal justice with aspirations of becoming a lawyer.
“I like to analyze stuff. I set a goal for myself and try to reach that goal,” he said. “If something goes wrong, I try to see how to fix it or get better. That applies to life and volleyball. I have a strong mindset. I know what I want to do.
“The scholarship labels my hard work. I feel proud because my hard work paid off. I tried to go to every practice and workout that I could.”
Even back as a youngster, his analytical mind was formulating a tangible objective. The idea of becoming an outside hitter was appealing, but he understood the best path to play college ball.
“I always wanted to hit,” he said. “But I knew my strength was at libero and I would never make it to college as a hitter. I realized that in the eighth grade.
“I like playing libero. I want to get every touch on the ball to help my teammates. I want to get a good pass to the setter and when someone gets a kill that’s a good feeling for me.”
Thomas also had scholarship offers from three NAIA schools: Hope (Calif.) International, Clarke University in Iowa, and Johnson & Wales in Colorado. He also drew interest from Division III schools and other small colleges, including Grand View, an NAIA school in Iowa, home to 2011 Waiakea graduate Kyle Hanagami.
In the age of technology, Thomas put a profile on the recruiting website ncsasports.org, which works pretty much like those online dating sites, seeking compatibility between two partners. He also had a video uploaded, so coaches could see him in action — scouting Thomas from the seat of their school’s office.
“I talked to the coach (Cole Tallman) for five months back and forth,” Thomas said. “He’s a nice guy and I liked that he’s humorous, and a witty type of guy. He made me feel comfortable.
“I saw the roster and there are players from Germany, Australia and Brazil. I liked the diversity. They’re all over 6 feet tall. I’ll be the shortest one on the team.”
The Trojans finished 17-14 last season, including 7-3 in the Conference Carolinas, losing in three sets to Pfeiffer (N.C.) University in the league championship match.
The starting libero, Dan Arnold, will be a senior for the 2013 season, which starts next January. He’s 6-2 and one of three returning liberos, all over 6 feet, so Thomas has stiff competition to crack the starting lineup.
“Coach Cole said on my highlight video he could tell I had the ability to read balls well and liked my quickness,” said Thomas, who played club ball for Pilipaa, coached by Ecko Osorio and Chris Leonard, two BIIF rivals from Waiakea. “I know I’ve got to work hard to get on the court. I’m willing to sacrifice everything to do that.”
The Trojans, located in Mount Olive, N.C., are roughly an hour from the coast, and Duke and North Carolina — the basketball kings of the Atlantic Coast Conference — plus there are snow resorts stacked around the area.
But Thomas has learned a valuable life lesson from his parents — Sam, who works for the police department, and Adrienne, who’s a billing specialist — to reach one of his goals.
“They’ve always told me to work hard and never take shortcuts,” Thomas said. “I’ll be working hard on the court and eventually will do that other stuff. I want to get an education. That’s first, then it’s volleyball.”