Hawaii’s Tiffany Westerberg embraces varied roles with Rainbow Wahine volleyball team
Tough love. It’s how many have described the coaching style of Robyn Ah Mow. Sometimes the emphasis is on tough, sometimes it is on love.
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It’s how many have described the coaching style of Robyn Ah Mow. Sometimes the emphasis is on tough, sometimes it is on love.
Tiffany Westerberg embraces both. It is exactly what the Hawaii freshman wanted when making the move from high school to college volleyball, when making the move from British Columbia to Manoa and when making the move from middle to right-side hitter and back … sometimes in the same match.
“I will play anywhere I’m asked to play,” the 6-foot-3 Westerberg said. “Whatever the team needs.”
She was one of the differences Hawaii needed last Saturday at UC Santa Barbara when the Rainbow Wahine needed to regroup after being swept at Cal Poly on Friday. Making her first start at right-side hitter, Westerberg disrupted the Gauchos’ impressive 6-2 offensive weapon known as Lindsey Ruddins.
Westerberg only had one block during Hawaii’s sweep of UCSB, but she touched a lot of the Gauchos’ attempts, allowing for the Wahine’s transition game to go to work. Her presence also forced UCSB setters to go away from Ruddins, looking for other hitting options that were late to materialize.
When told that she’d be starting on the right side, “I was excited,” Westerberg said. “It’s not that it was unexpected, because both Brae (freshman middle Akana) and I also train on the right in practices, but I was ‘right side!’ ”
Hawaii came out on the right side of the outcome, sweeping UCSB. Westerberg credits the three-hour meeting the team had after being swept at Cal Poly.
“We talked about the things we needed to do if we wanted to host (in the NCAA tournament), if we want to get to Pittsburgh (site of the NCAA final four),” said Westerberg as No. 22 Hawaii prepared for this week’s Big West matches with UC Riverside today and UC Davis on Sunday. “The next day, we were focused.
“I think we’ve grown, but we have a lot more growing. We can be a very confident team, a very powerful team. We can be so good by the end of the season.”
Ah Mow saw the potential in Westerberg, who was born in California but grew up in Canada. The Wahine coaching staff tracked Westerberg at various club tournaments in the U.S. and Canada, seeing the future Wahine earn various all-tournament honors including Most Valuable Player at the provincial championships and the No. 1 ranking among middles in British Columbia.
“She had this intensity, she looked like someone who wanted to play here,” Ah Mow said. “On her recruiting trip, she saw how I coached and she still wanted to come.
“She has this edge, she’s someone who’s never going to settle for less. I like that.”
Ask Westerberg why she chose Hawaii over schools such as Oregon State and San Diego, and the answer is a simple “Robyn Ah Mow.”
“She’s a great coach,” Westerberg said. “She’s the coach I want. She’s very vocal, tells you things straight up. Not a lot of coaches are like that.
“I was looking for a great coach and a great community. Hawaii had both. I didn’t think they’d offer (a scholarship) and when they did, I was taken aback. I almost cried.”
The offer came via FaceTime from associate coach Angelica Ljungqvist, one of the top middles in NCAA history and the 1996 National Player of the Year.
“Coach Ang is awesome, is so experienced as a middle,” Westerberg said. “I’ve learned so much so far. Every day I learn something.”
Something that Westerberg learned growing up was that being tall was good for volleyball but not so good for cheerleading.
“I did cheerleading full-time until I basically outgrew it,” she said. “Then I tried out for the school volleyball team. It was something I was good at.”
She and the other Wahine freshmen have had on-the-job training on the court as players and off the court as celebrities. Westerberg and freshmen Amber Igiede and Riley Wagoner were together at Aloha Stadium for the Sept. 7 Rainbow Warriors football game against Oregon State and “I thought we were just going to watch a football game,” Westerberg said. “I forgot that ‘We’re the Wahine.’
“It was kind of shocking that people knew us already. It’s part of how welcoming everyone has been.”