For those of you who aren’t S-A subscribers, here’s Ann’s story from this morning. There were some comments on another thread about it so to open the discussion up to everyone ….
And yes, Higgins is pushing Uiato. Which is a good thing. Ann will be breaking down each positions over the next few days
First of five parts
For one glaring reason, the gap between all-conference University of Hawaii senior setter Mita Uiato and freshman Tayler Higgins is not as large as you might think.
Coaches call it “leadership” or “presence,” but there is so much to it even they can’t explain precisely what they want. What UH coach Dave Shoji and assistant Robyn Ah Mow-Santos — starting setter on three U.S. Olympic teams — know is that Higgins came out of Punahou with innate leadership abilities they are still looking for in Uiato.
Their senior is one of the premier setters in the country. She has worked hard on her defense, blocking and a tendency to get lazy with her feet. There is little doubt she can “deal the ball,” as Shoji puts it. Two years ago, in her first season as a starter, the Rainbow Wahine hit .291 — second-best in the nation. Last year, she was an All-America honorable mention.
“Right now she has the upper hand,” Ah Mow said. “She’s been playing with the core group awhile so she knows what all the hitters like, knows their tendencies, everything about them. In her sophomore year she could hardly run and set. Now she can set balls right as she goes left, and left as she goes right. Sometimes balls come out and I’m like, ‘Wow, that is a nice set.’ She can move and set.”
But Uiato is gentle and soft-spoken, quick to smile and slow to anger. Those are all qualities you want in a friend, but not what Hawaii wants from the person who touches the volleyball more than anyone else on the court.
“She’s got to take more control of what’s going on on the court,” Ah Mow said. “Be a leader for everyone else to follow. When the team is going down she has to bring people up.
“If the coach yells at you you’ve got to take it. Don’t just get down on yourself because you touch 85 percent of the balls. If you’re down and not playing your game … you hurt the team more than anyone else.”
Shoji says being vocal simply isn’t Uiato’s nature.
“But, it would really help if your setter is putting people in place and running the formations and running the defense as well,” he said. “She hasn’t been that type of player. She’s been more concerned with her setting ability and setting choices. I think now she’s pretty comfortable with all that and she can take on more of the other role.”
Both expect a stellar senior season. Ah Mow knows precisely where Uiato is coming from. “I didn’t say one word when I came in as freshman, you know?” she smiles. “And now. …”
Now, the captain of Team USA’s silver-medal team in 2008 understands all the nuances of playing at the highest level, and believes Uiato has the potential to get there.
“It all depends on her laziness and leadership,” Ah Mow said. “In order to make it far, if you want to play overseas or on the national team, coaches have to see that. It’s what all teams want. They want setters to lead. It’s the first thing I noticed about Tayler, she really leads her team.
“I told them what separates good players from great players is that good players make themselves look good. The best players make everybody around them better.”
Higgins, Uiato and Kyra Goodman, another freshman setter, are striving to be better than good.
As a Hawaii setter, defense is a priority, followed by “setting a hittable ball and making the right decisions at the right time.” Uiato has proven more than capable, but knows for UH to reach the next level there is lots more work. The freshmen have quickly discovered that as well.
Higgins hasn’t been shy about directing traffic on a team with seven seniors, already advising teammates on armswings, opponents’ blocking tendencies and talking — a lot —after every play. Her defense is solid and she is quick enough to get to passes off the net and put up a hittable set, though that and experience are probably her weaknesses now.
Like Uiato, her blocking is better than it probably should be for an undersized front-row player.
“It’s about the same as Mita,” Ah Mow said, “and she’s a freshman and Mita’s a senior. If they are the same now, Higgins is going to be pretty nasty when she gets to be a senior.
“If the pass is good and right there, both are fine. What Mita has up on her now is Mita can get to balls and set a decent set. Tayler is working hard on that.”
Goodman, whose sister Kaela is a UH senior, is also working hard. Ah Mow is making dramatic changes in her delivery and is impressed that the freshman is “determined to change.” For now, a balky back has kept her from jumping, but she could be the best blocker at the position based on two factors — at 5-11, she is the tallest setter, and sister Kaela is one of Hawaii’s premier blockers.