Although the sport is dominated by tall hitters and towering front-line blockers, one shorter girl shifts back and readies herself to prepare for the ball. Junior defensive specialist and libero Risa Ka’awa is tasked with the job to keep the ball from touching the floor and for that particular job, height isn’t a factor. Her height might even help.
“At my position, I’m lower to the ground and I have a higher chance to pick the ball up,” Ka’awa said.
The number on her back, number one, also serves as a reminder of her height.
“We usually save the lower numbers for, what I call, the ‘fun-sized’ members of our team,” Ka’awa laughed.
From her performance thus far in the season, though, her height seems irrelevant as she has become a huge part of the volleyball team. On the season, Ka’awa leads the team with 192 digs for 4.80 digs per set, which sits at 59th in the nation according to NCAA. Earlier this season, Ka’awa has also been named to the Best Western Falcon Invitational all-tournament team. Her abilities have been recognized nationally but have been appreciated on the team as well.
“She has been able to contribute in multiple ways,” said head coach Sarah Bernson. “She plays libero in most matches and is also a defensive player who can attack out of the back row.”
As the defensive specialist, Ka’awa gets her job done by making sure a serve or spike does not touch the floor. She gets the first touch to pass to a setter to set up the Red’s offense. The team looks to Ka’awa for a good first pass to make sure the offense runs smoothly and effectively.
“[The defensive specialists] are the first to touch the ball and [are] responsible for getting a good play,” Ka’awa said. “People rely on us to get the good pass so that we can get a good set and hopefully a good spike.”
However, her job does not end there. Besides covering the floor on defense, Ka’awa is also responsible as serving as the eyes for the offense.
“We can see the whole court from back there and we give the hitters options,” Ka’awa said. “Hitters may often have a difficult time seeing a late blocker coming or we can help the hitter get open shots.”
Even though she excels at her job today, Ka’awa did not always play this position.
“Coming from Hawaii, she did a little bit of everything,” Bernson said. “Coming into the mainland and taking that experience into a specific role on this team is something she had to grow into.”
“I focused more on the backcourt and I have improved a lot,” Ka’awa said. “College is a different tempo of play.”
Ka’awa started her college career as a defensive specialist and has only improved on her new role since then. After appearing in 25 games, she totaled 164 digs in her first year. She became the team’s main defensive specialist in sophomore year and appeared in 21 games for a total of 146 digs in the season for 2.21 digs per set. This season, though, Ka’awa has really matured and her performance has shown her growth. Ka’awa attributes many reasons for her growth as a player over time. One would definitely just be being comfortable with herself and her teammates.
“Since freshman year, I’ve felt more confident,” Ka’awa said. “I’ve also grown to know the girls better and we’ve grown to become closer with a special bond.”
“Definitely her confidence and ownership of her abilities and contributions has grown over the years,” Bernson said.
She also acknowledges the work she has put in since her first college game and the experience over time. Often before the games start, while players warm up, Ka’awa studies the tendencies of her opponents. She watches their serving and hitting to gain important knowledge for the game. Ka’awa also spends much time watching video analyzing the tendencies of her opponents. On the court, she uses her knowledge combined with her instincts to make sure she gets that first pass.
“Since freshman year, I have a better feeling on the courts,” Ka’awa said. “I’ve gotten better reading the attack.”
Since Ka’awa first started playing volleyball in her hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii, volleyball has not changed its significance to her. She views the sport as an escape where she feels safe and constantly motivated.
“Although you do get hurt sometimes, volleyball is like a sanctuary,” Ka’awa said. “It’s a place where I can have fun and I can exert all my energy while having fun.”
And Ka’awa will continue to have fun throughout the season. All from the view of a short but dominant defensive force in the backcourt.
Original Author: Wankyu Lee