Ka'aihue gets defensive


POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

She never had a choice. Not with her DNA, with pro baseball players on one branch of the family tree and successful volleyball players on the other.

Elizabeth Ka'aihue was born to be an athlete.

But born to play volleyball? Apparently that was a recessive gene, one that made a late appearance.

“;I can remember going to a volleyball clinic when I was really young, and I didn't like it,”; the junior libero for third-ranked Hawaii said. “;I played basketball, soccer, softball and took hula for a little while.

“;Maybe I was too young to appreciate volleyball. It was good that I got to try other sports first then found the sport that I love.”;

It has loved Ka'aihue back, with two state titles at Punahou, great success at the club level, and a scholarship to Hawaii — the first libero-defensive specialist to receive one from Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji as an incoming freshman.

“;She was a good defensive player in high school,”; said senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru, who played two varsity seasons at Punahou with Ka'aihue. “;And she's even better now.

“;We played varsity and club together, and I'm glad that we could keep on in college. She has a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game. She's very calming on the court. On the court and off the court, we have a very strong bond. We don't call each by our names when we're playing. We call each other 'Sis.' “;

It was that sense of family that kept Ka'aihue home.





        Louisiana Tech (12-10, 2-4) at No. 3 Hawaii (15-2, 6-0)

Tomorrow, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center; Radio: KKEA 1420-AM; TV: KFVE (Ch. 5); Series: Hawaii leads 14-0


“;I feel very lucky, very blessed to have this opportunity,”; Ka'aihue said. “;Dave offered (a scholarship) early in my junior year and I never thought about going away.

“;I couldn't ask for anything more, to play in front of my family, play for such a good coach in this atmosphere.”;

She's had her setbacks. After being selected to the 2007 Western Athletic Conference all-freshman team, Ka'aihue injured her knee in fall camp last season and saw senior Tara Hittle don the libero jersey.

“;The injury taught me a lot,”; she said. “;It gave me a different perspective. I kind of had it easy, I always had the position (as a freshman). Then I was fighting day in and day out with Hittle.

“;Coming into this year, the focus was on getting strong and not think about injury. I lost some weight, Tommy (strength coach Heffernan) has really helped, and I got the strongest I've ever been.”;

It came at a price. Ka'aihue has normally spent summers traveling to watch her brothers Kila (Kansas City Royals farm system) and Kala Jr. (independent league after being released by the Atlanta Braves organization this summer) play pro baseball, but she made the commitment to stay and work out.

“;She worked out really hard in the offseason,”; Wahine associate coach Mike Sealy said. “;She's also made improvements on the mechanical things.

“;She's a lot more confident and a better back-row leader.”;

One of her first volleyball coaches saw the potential early.

“;The thing was, she was so focused and she was maybe 10,”; Wahine All-American Joey Akeo Miyashiro said. “;She knew what she wanted to do and she was going to do whatever was needed to get where she wanted to go.

“;Her mom (Cookie Nakoa Ka'aihue) and I go way back to playing at Kamehameha together. She had that same spark her mom had. When you see kids that young, you try to predict how they might end up. I thought she'd be a setter. She has the hands and the head for it.”;

Shoji looked at Ka'aihue as a setter and, when Dani Mafua was injured last season, Ka'aihue set Hawaii's second team in practice.

While she misses playing in the front row and having the option to hit, “;I love being a libero,”; Ka'aihue said. “;I want to be the best libero I can be and do whatever helps the team.”;

That includes being part of the squad that gives Shoji his 1,000th victory. It's expected to happen tomorrow against Louisiana Tech.

“;He's a legend, coached so many amazing ladies,”; Ka'aihue said. “;His wins-to-losses ratio (999-175) is so amazing.

“;He can't stand losing, always looking for a way to win. That's the kind of coach you want to play for and I'm blessed that I do.”;