Although freshman Stijn van Tilburg has shined so far this season for the Hawai‘i men’s volleyball team, averaging 4.19 kills per set, he found his way to Hawai‘i by chance.
“I posted a video on YouTube, and I asked a friend of mine if he could bring my name around to the U.S. and other places in the world,” van Tilburg said. “A week later I got an email from Hawai‘i.”
Once van Tilburg got in contact with head coach Charlie Wade, the decision to come play for the ‘Bows was made.
“Hawai‘i was the first school that contacted me. There were other schools that contacted me after, but I never really replied,” van Tilburg said. “I decided to come play because of the competitive competition, I like to be challenged every week and I believe we have ranked teams the rest of the season, and Hawai‘i is a beautiful place – it’s beautiful weather every day.”
Originally from Amsterdam, Netherlands, van Tilburg has moved away for volleyball before, and although this is farther than the previous move, his parents pushed him into the journey across the globe.
“I moved away when I was 16 to live with my team. It was kind of like this, practice twice a day, and my house, I could see the school and I could walk down the gym,” van Tilburg said. “It [the move] was further, but my parents both didn’t study abroad, and my mom said she regretted that decision, so she said to go out there.”
Since coming to Hawai‘i this season, van Tilburg has started every game, won the MVP in the Outrigger Resorts Invitational with a tournament high 57 kills and is second on the team in total kills to opposite hitter Sinisa Zarkovic.
Zarkovic is in his senior year and is someone that van Tilburg looks up to as a leader.
“In one of the first practices, I was really fighting up with him [Sinisa], or trying to make it a competition every day, but I really like playing with him because he is really competitive and he expects the best from you every day,” van Tillburg said. “He always finds something that you can improve. I love playing with him.”
Both Zarkovic and van Tilburg have been a major factor to the ‘Bows 9-2 start this season, but they have also seen steady play from the other European starters.
Iain McKellar and Hendrik Mol lead the team in total blocks with 32 and 30 and have contributed offensively with both averaging at least 0.9 kills per set.
“Coach [Wade] likes to have players that are foreign. We have people from everywhere around the world, and everyone is different.But everyone came here and basically left everything behind, so we are really close,” van Tilburg said. “Now we have four Europeans starting [McKellar, Mol, Zarkovic and van Tilburg], and volleyball is different around the world, so he has the best of everything.”
Along with the international starters, the Warriors boast an impressive freshman and reserve lineup that make the guys compete in practice.
So far, van Tilburg’s greatest memory came in the Outrigger Invitational when he won MVP in front of his parents who were visiting, and has enjoyed his free-time in Hawai‘i.
However, it is competing in the Stan Sheriff Center that has had the biggest impact on the Dutch native.
“Playing here at home, just walking in [Stan Sheriff], it gives you chills,” van Tilburg said. “The biggest crowd I played in front of was a little over 2,000, and that’s here every week and I think it will increase.”
The ‘Bows split with the no. 1 UCLA Bruins, handing the Bruins its first loss of the season, thanks to players like van Tilburg. The team is confident moving forward.
“I think we have some pretty good chances, we have good people behind the service line, and we have good passing,” van Tilburg said. “We all have guys that really want to win and are winners. We haven’t lost many sets at home, and we have been able to win in those close games.”
The Warriors will head on their second California road trip this season, beginning on Feb. 12, against Stanford. First serve is set for 7 p.m. PT.