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Starting liberos labor to help Wahine and Trojans click

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Hawaii libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue gets high marks from hitter Kanani Danielson and coach Dave Shoji.
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One came in as the first scholarship libero in Hawaii volleyball history.

The other was ranked the top high school libero in the country last season.

They both wear jerseys of a different color than their teammates.

But that is not why Rainbow Wahine senior Elizabeth Ka’aihue and USC freshman Natalie Hagglund stand out on the court.

Both have played key roles in their teams’ early success this year. Last night, it was Hagglund who finished with the most digs (22) and a solid performance that helped anchor No. 10 USC’s 23-25, 25-22, 25-17, 18-25, 15-7 marathon win over No. 4 Hawaii for the Hawaiian Airlines Classic title.

"Their libero is really good, a solid player, and she’s only a freshman," Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji. "We tried not to serve her.

"And Liz … she had a great tournament, was solid all weekend. She’s running the show out there and, especially when we have four freshmen out there, she has to take charge."

The Wahine owe Ka’aihue big for their Set 1 win. Trailing 15-12, her 5-0 serving run — which included an ace and two service overpasses slammed back by Brittany Hewitt — put the Wahine up for good.

And, with four freshmen keeping her company in Set 4, Ka’aihue kept rally after rally alive with six digs. Her comforting demeanor helped Hawaii force its third five-set match of the young season.

"I’d give her an ‘A’ for her performance," said Wahine hitter Kanani Danielson, who had 15 digs to go along with her 21 kills. "She keeps me going out there when times are rough. She’s one of our captains and she’s constantly talking, keeping us on course."

Ka’aihue’s weekend included her 1,000th career dig (against New Mexico on Saturday) and moving into the top 10 on UH’s career dig list. With 16 digs last night, she has 1,026, passing Mahina Eleneki (1,025).

"You can’t put your finger really on what she has," USC coach Mick Haley said of Ka’aihue. "It’s the intangibles, that volleyball sense. Liberos are surrounded by superstars, and the good ones make everyone around them better."

Haley had mixed marks for Hagglund, a former high school longboard champion. He agreed that her surfing background has her on the way to becoming very, very good.

"She has no fear," Haley said. "And there’s this balance out there. What I liked was she didn’t play well early but she kept telling her teammates, ‘I’ll make up for it.’ "

The 22 digs were Hagglund’s career high. She has 79 in six matches.

 

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