Friday, May 24

Bouncing back into his game

Junior Steve Klosterman adapts to UCLA play, finds niche on the court after overcoming injury

There were already some big shoes for Steve Klosterman to fill
when he first set foot on the UCLA campus three years ago. But they
weren’t those left behind by any graduating senior. They were
his own sneakers, waiting to be filled, to meet the expectations of
coaches, fans and himself. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country
coming of out of high school, a two-time Junior Olympics MVP and
three-time all-league player at Marina High School. A similarly
great collegiate career was immediately expected from Klosterman.
Only after a hot-and-cold freshman year and an injury-plagued
sophomore year has the highly touted Long Beach native started to
live up to his potential. In his third year as a Bruin, instead of
showing mere flashes of brilliance, Klosterman now shines all the
time. His success could not have come at a more opportune time.
After starting the season 12-12, No. 7 seed UCLA (22-12) will play
No. 2 seed Pepperdine (17-7) in the Mountain Pacific Sports
Federation semifinal tonight on the heels of a 10-game winning
streak. Klosterman is the undoubted star of a team peaking at the
right time. “He’s matured quite well; he’s
blossomed,” said redshirt junior Beau Peters, who was
Klosterman’s teammate at Marina High School, at the LBC
Volleyball Club, and now at UCLA. “But especially from his
freshman year when he didn’t have quite the year that
everybody thought he was going to have, from then on out, I think
he just shut up all of his critics,” Peters said. In his
first year at UCLA, Klosterman had to adjust to the UCLA style of
play, which required much more effort from the three-time Junior
Olympics gold medalist. “Suddenly (he was) in this program
that (he was) just dreaming about with the big names and all
that,” assistant coach Brian Rofer said. “And
it’s a different game here. In high school he was the guy
that would hit, he didn’t really have to do anything else.
But now he’s starting to turn the corner, realizing he has to
pass, dig, get the tip shots. Someone else isn’t going to
come in and get it; he has to step in and make the big
plays.” This year, Klosterman is beginning to make those big
plays, leading the team with 4.12 kills per game and having a .318
hitting percentage that is the highest in his UCLA career.
“As Steve’s numbers go up, so does everyone
else’s because they actually respect our right-side attack
now,” Rofer said. “Now it’s kind of a catch-22;
you have to pick your poison.”

Shouldering the load Klosterman’s newfound success and
consistency did not come without a price. Beginning in his freshman
year during the Bruins’ April 14 match against Cal State
Northridge, Klosterman began to feel pain in his right hitting
shoulder for the first time in his athletic career. The pain never
left. Klosterman played through the pain throughout the entire 2005
season with what turned out to be a torn labrum. It’s an
injury that often ends baseball pitchers’ careers, but may
not be nearly as fatal for volleyball players. Still, Klosterman
was hindered by his shoulder in 2005, and his numbers reflected it.
Klosterman averaged 3.89 kills per game with a .293 hitting
percentage in his freshman year, but he regressed in 2005 to a .220
hitting percentage because the shoulder injury limited his
accuracy. “He had a great freshman year, and now he’s
having a great junior year,” coach Al Scates said. “But
he had to throw away one (sophomore) year because of his
shoulder.” The eight-month rehabilitation period after the
2005 season ended in the May national-title game was worth much
more to Klosterman than any amount of playing time could have been
at that point in time. The doctors prevented him from making any
type of forward arm movement, so he could do nothing but sit and
watch. Klosterman is sworn to be a “volleyball junkie”
by teammates because he loves to watch international matches on TV
to study the game. But even a student of the game would be
frustrated to sit and watch from the sidelines, offering little
more than support. “I’ve been playing volleyball
year-round since I was in sixth grade,” Klosterman said.
“It was tough to sit out, but I really needed the rest. I
think that actually really helped me play better this year because
I got to see the outside perspective, got to see how people react
in certain situations. By not playing I think I learned a lot more;
I had to use my head more.”

Recharged In his first games back this season, beginning in the
January Outrigger Hotels Invitational in Hawai’i, Klosterman
began to infuse this new insight into his play. But success did not
come immediately. It was a slow climb back to the dominance he had
during his high school career, but after a few weeks of ups and
downs while his shoulder tired from the intense demands, Klosterman
eventually regained his strength. “He’s come through a
lot of adversity,” said Steve’s father Don Klosterman.
“What’s really important is that all that rehab took
place on the job. The first six to eight weeks was really a gut
check for him to play well, to rehab and recharge the batteries.
But after the first Stanford match, he got on track and played on a
consistent basis every week. That was when we felt confident that
his arm was going to stick.” During that
“recharging” period, Klosterman learned even more about
himself as a player and made fine-tune adjustments to improve his
all-around game. “I’m definitely playing a lot smarter
this year,” said Klosterman, who is lauded by his father and
Rofer for being an avid student of the game. “At the
beginning of the year my arm wasn’t at full strength and I
had to learn how to do different shots. But I think definitely this
is my best year just because I’m more level-headed and I
stick with it more. “In previous years, like when I was a
freshman, I’d get too frustrated and take myself out of the
game. But this year no matter how bad I play at the beginning, I
can still pull myself out of it.” After the change in
attitude and style of play, Klosterman is now beginning to resemble
the volleyball greats he admires watching on TV. “You had to
take a back seat while he was watching his tapes,” Don
Klosterman said of his son’s countless hours spent in front
of the television. “He loves the international game.
Volleyball is a sport of nuances and techniques, and he watches the
world’s greats to pick up those traits.” “Instead
of trying to emulate a player, he’s that player that younger
kids are going to start emulating,” Rofer said.
“That’s the level that he’s at, and he still has
another year. He’s the player that I expected him to be,
starting now, this year.” If Klosterman’s time is now,
then UCLA might be only a moment or two away from something bigger
than just a win.

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