Described as being one of the more reserved players on the team, Austin Kingi is stepping up this season and gaining attention with his anything-but-quiet performance. Halfway through his third year as a Gaucho, Kingi is putting his experience to work, recording team high statistics and making improvements in all aspects of his game.
“This year I just realized I need to hit harder, pass better, focus more and lead by example because I am not the most outspoken player on the team,” Kingi said.
Until last week, Kingi was consistently leading the UCSB men’s volleyball team in kills for the entire first half of the season.
“Austin has really embraced his role as a primary passer and go-to attacker this season,” Assistant Coach Cullen Irons said. “He is a lead by example kind of player.”
It is apparent Kingi has seized this opportunity as a go-to player, already dishing out three double-double performances against Hawaii, Pepperdine and Long Beach State.
“My first two years here I would say I was pretty consistent, but I was more of a role player … I wasn’t a standout, or I wasn’t leading the team in kills,” Kingi said.
In this season alone, the circumstances have changed and Kingi’s offensive consistency and overall improvement is standing out above the rest.
Kingi describes volleyball as something that has always been an important part of his life. He began playing organized volleyball in the seventh grade, but has been exposed to it through his parents for as long as he can remember.
This family’s involvement doesn’t stop there. The UCSB men’s volleyball team boasts not one, but two Kingi brothers who are currently in the starting lineup. Austin is one of the outside hitters on the team and his older brother Chad Kingi is a senior libero.
“It’s difficult to compare because his position is more of the passing,” Kingi said. “But when I am playing with Chad, we definitely have some chemistry on the court.”
Not only do the brothers play on the same team, but they also live together. One might think they would be sick of each other, but Austin said they have become a lot closer in this past year. Austin lists his older brother’s influence as one of the main reasons he decided to become a Gaucho in the first place.
“A part of my decision to come to UCSB was because of Chad, and I had also grown up going to basketball tournaments on this campus so I was familiar with it,” Kingi said. “Another reason is because it was a UC school, and that was a better opportunity than Long Beach and University of Hawaii which were also recruiting me.”
Austin said although he considered the other options, UCSB was always the right choice, and it was close enough to his family at home. In addition to having his brother on the court with him, he has a supportive fan base in the bleachers as well.
“The whole Kingi family is very tight knit around their volleyball,” Austin’s roommate Lucas Steagall said. “It’s pretty cool actually, they are all very into the sport.”
At just about any game, home or away, you can find the Kingi parents and grandparents decked out in Gaucho blue supporting their boys. Austin said that his grandparents love coming to the games so much they keep a second house in Thousand Oaks especially for volleyball season.
“It has been really fun because my parents are able to see both of us, they don’t have to choose a team,” Kingi said. “My grandparents are also really supportive, they are at almost every game with my parents.”
Other than following in his brother’s footsteps, Austin’s love for the beach made his decision to come to UCSB that much easier. When he isn’t busy with practice and school, he says kayaking is one of his favorite things to do. He also loves playing tennis and says that he recently started playing racquetball with his brother Chad.
“I love tennis, I really just like to try everything,” Kingi said. “Chad just got me my own racquet, so we are going to go and play racquetball together sometime soon.”
Kingi’s desire to try new things is directly related to his future career choice. He is currently majoring in Film and Media Studies and hopes to work on something involved in movie production later in life.
“I want to experience as many things as I can. I am hoping to do some internships, and figure out what I like before working under someone,” Kingi said. “Once I get through some more classes I am sure I will have a better idea of the direction I want to go.”
When asked if he had any interest in furthering his volleyball career, and possibly going overseas to play professionally, Kingi said he might consider it for the opportunity to travel.
“I think about it, I would consider it for a few years to travel the world,” Kingi said. “But production is the end goal.”
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Kingi has strong goals for both himself and for the team.
“At the beginning of this season we all talked about how we want the national championship this year. I think this year especially since everyone is older it seems much more attainable,” said Kingi. “I have similar goals for myself, but I am just working to improve my role as a leader on the team, and leading by example.”
With a tough game tonight against UCLA, Kingi’s role as a consistent offensive threat will be especially important. Kingi has already recorded 158 kills and 13 service aces in half a season. With plenty of games ahead, he is already approaching the 224 kills and 20 service aces that he earned in the entirety of the 2013 season.
Austin Kingi is truly a product of his support system. Whether it is through his parents traveling to Palo Alto to cheer him on against Stanford, or his team looking to him in critical moments to lead by example, he is being surrounded by all angles and answering back with an incredible season.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of March 5, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.