Today's story on setters

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.


  1. LC August 15, 2013 4:12 pm

    Oh yea Higgins is differently a chatter box and not shy. Even has her own web site.

  2. Dedicatedfan August 15, 2013 6:03 pm

    I keep hearing people comparing Higgins to Kamana’o, my thinking is she will be more like Robyn, her coach, by the time she is done playing as a Wahine. It would not surprise me if she follows in her coach’s footsteps, and becomes an Olympic setter.

  3. Cindy Luis August 15, 2013 6:11 pm

    The comparisons I’ve heard are to Kamana’o as well. Haven’t seen it yet, only because I was more familiar with Kamana’o in high school. but I do like Higgins’ hands and court presences.

  4. Purple&Gold August 15, 2013 7:00 pm

    Mita reminds me a bit of Vakasausau (sp?)
    Would like to see her ‘service’ her hitters as more of a Robyn Lewis type, however.

    Skip the flashy-ness

  5. Hot August 15, 2013 7:19 pm

    Kamana’o was among the best. She made everyone look good, was never flashy. She was the centerpiece of the team after 2003’s seven seniors graduated.

  6. Grammy August 15, 2013 8:03 pm

    Centerpiece is a great description of a setter because the second touch of the offense is their responsibility, almost every play/attack goes through their hands, so to speak. Hawaii’s defense is not usually built to stop the other or shut down the other teams offense totally so our offense has to be ‘effective’ which means a good pass and good/better set to the right hitter for a good chance to get a kill. Since Coach Dave was a setter and he preaches serve receive/first touch control we usually get a pass that is good enough for our setter to give us a chance to score or terminate the point. From the days of chasing errant balls around Klum Gym to the various NCAA tournament teams the Wahine have always featured setters who were mostly undersized (except Boyer who was the one exception I can think of from my time watching) who could move and get good and sometimes exceptional sets out of the first passes. It’s one of the main features of Wahine ball along with ‘smart hitters’ who better the ball when they get less than perfect sets. The fans might scream for “ROOF’s” or high flying kills, but there is nothing that beats a ‘sweet handed set’ out of a bad or shanked pass which instantly turns the bad into the ‘great’ and the gasps into cheers. Yeah the hitters finish but the setters turn the tense excitement of transitioning defense to offense in a split second of brilliance. And make opposing coaches shake their heads in disbelief that anyone could get ‘that ball’ up without massaging or mishandling it. That’s why I loved the focus on this year’s setter crop. Also I like the idea that we might see a 6-2 offense out of the Wahine something different but which allows us to utilize more of the talent we’re strong in to bring along the freshmen. Go Mita! Go Tayler! Go Kyra! Looking for great things from each of you in your own way. Go Wahine!

  7. Cindy Luis August 15, 2013 10:04 pm

    This much I can say about the difference Kamana’o made. She had Willoughby and Kahumoku. When the UH SID pleaded the case for Kamana’o to be FOY, the feedback was that the two outsides would make any setter an all-american. The SID pointed out that both of the OHs hitting percentages had risen dramatically under Kamaman’o, meaning smarter sets and recognition of the block. that led to Kamana’o being FOY.
    or, as you point out, the team hitting percentage also improved.

  8. Cindy Luis August 16, 2013 6:36 am

    1. haven’t seen Higgins as a chatter box but she does have the leadership skills and court presence needed for a setter.

  9. Cubicle1126 August 16, 2013 7:00 am

    Cindy — I think what really helped Kanoe get FOY (more than anything) was that Hawaii was a final four team. And I think Kahumoku’s numbers went down during her senior year (KK’s frosh year), in part b/c Kahumoku was nursing a back injury that year. This was reflected in the fact that Kahumoku was dropped to the 2nd Team AA from the 1st team during her senior year. So if it’s true that’s what the SID pushed as part of Kanoe’s FOY campaign, then he/she did a great job of selling that point, even if the stats don’t quite back it up.

  10. setaone August 16, 2013 7:32 am

    Kamanao did have great hands and was a great blocker, much better than other setters much taller. One aspect also as to why Willoughby and Kahumoku’s % increased their senior years, Kamanao set a much better outside ball then Carey/Vakasausau. Carey was great with the middles and Vakasausau was a great athlete.

  11. Hot August 16, 2013 8:24 am

    9. Cubicle1126, I definitely agree re: Kahumoku. Her numbers went down, probably due to her back problems. But hitting .291 averaging 4.5 kills and 3.5 digs are still first team AA numbers. I couldn’t understand why they had to drop her to 2nd team. Duggins’ numbers went down too, but mostly because opponents started to key on her, owing to her AA recognition in 2002. However, Kamana’o was able to help increase the hitting percentages of Gustin, Lundqvist, Tano and Willoughby – whose eye-popping .373 percentage was good enough for an All-America middle.

  12. Cubicle1126 August 16, 2013 8:34 am

    hot — you don’t have to convince me that kahumoku is a 1st team AA. 🙂 the problem is who else was in contention for AA honors that year. i think that was a pretty deep/competitive season for college vball.

  13. Hot August 16, 2013 8:39 am

    Hawaii’s team hitting percentage also went up from .329 in 2002 to .336 in Kamana’o’s freshman year. Very impressed with her. She was a gem, fantastic defender and blocker and exceptional setter. I also loved how she only attacked the ball when necessary, unlike “offensive” setters who constantly dump/tip the ball (I felt like some of these setters just wanted the glory/attention of getting the kill). Kamana’o was never flashy, but you still noticed her because she was that good.

  14. Cubicle1126 August 16, 2013 9:14 am

    hot — that right there (the team’s hitting % rising during KK’s frosh year) would be (and probably was) the better selling point for why she earned frosh of the year. 🙂

  15. Hot August 16, 2013 9:19 am

    Cubicle – yes, I think so too. And the emergence of Tano – hitting above .400 for the season. Re: Kahumoku’s AA status in 2003 – I too believe that was a very strong year but I she could easily swap with some of the other OHs who made first team.

  16. Cindy Luis August 16, 2013 10:15 am

    Hard to say who is the best setter UH has ever had. I’m a little partial to Joyce Ka’apuni.

  17. Cindy Luis August 16, 2013 10:18 am

    don’t know if getting to the final four helped with Kamana’o since videos and nominations voted on before the final four.

  18. Dedicatedfan August 16, 2013 10:42 am

    Have people forgotten about Robin Ah Mow-Santos, who I consider to be THE BEST Setter to ever wear a Wahine uniform.

  19. Cindy Luis August 16, 2013 10:52 am

    DF, if you read the other comments it’s obvious people aren’t overlooking Ah Mow-Santos

  20. po'okela August 16, 2013 11:26 am

    I’m still bitter kanoe didn’t want to continue on with volleyball…

  21. setaone August 16, 2013 12:27 pm

    20. Want and couldn’t is different things. From my understanding her body had given out on her.

  22. Cindy Luis August 16, 2013 3:48 pm

    20. Why would you be bitter? It was her choice to move on with her life, get married and settle down. And as setaone said, believe there were some issues with her knees that left her less than 100 percent. Wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t come and coach somewhere.

  23. mei mei August 16, 2013 4:00 pm

    also, KK is a lovely flight attendant for HAL now … she seems pretty happy 🙂

  24. Warriorfan August 16, 2013 7:09 pm

    Why be bitter about someone’s elses life choices? KK seems very happy to me.
    I still don’t understand how Jenna Hagglund made the national team though, I’ve always felt Dani Mafua was better than she was!!

  25. Purple&Green August 16, 2013 7:54 pm

    I’m somewhat partial to (all arms/legs..what ideally you’d want of a vb player) Cheri Boyer.
    [QB to THE best era of Na Wahine sports; chose HI when she was a top 5 recruit with SD Jrs.; still playing ball and holding the/da Ohana tradition(s) down]

    For me to watch Wahine VB intently this season, a couple of things must occur (or it aint happening):

    1. Mita has to have improved. Sorry girl but it’s your senior year and you’re the setter. Hawaii has always valued–HIGHLY–its team leader.

    2. Dave’s Hartong, Kastl, Vorster, Adolpho, Taylor, Mita must maintain the novelty of a new season ’cause the consequential switch of OHs mid-season for others’ attempts at making a go of swinging from pins WON’T cut it.

    Maybe Croson being gone is the best thing.

    It’s absolutely better to take your licks early (w/ those ‘Hwns’ who emulated/revered Wahines) who finish up strong on into the NCAAs, then to go the season with seven (a couple? of which..) who love the idea of competing, internally even
    Those who’d continue to improve the lengthy season stretch, making large strides along the way ’til the climactic build of the post season (and leaving certain Srs. da likely @Queen’s Beach).

    I don’t think that Shoji has it in him anymore to “motivate”. It’s been too long a career. He works them HARD but that’s where I suspect it ends.
    I’m pretty sure SW has is own plate full with Beach stuff also.
    RA-S is still finding her way as a coach.

    Also, I think that UH can go four or five with Texas.

  26. Haolebob August 16, 2013 10:05 pm

    Cindy- I am with you, Joyce was the most animated setter I have ever seen. Nothing got her down, a mistake was just the last play and the precursor to a great next play. She always saw the fun in the game not a job. When I saw Robin in High School, I already knew that she would be one of, if not the best ever at UH. The last setter I think should be mentioned, is one completely overlooked because of the other people she played with. That setter is Kris Pulaski, not showey but certainly not quiet. She got the ball to the hitters and made the plays necessary to help bring TWO National championships to Hawai’i. A setter is rated by success and by that criteria she has to at least be entered into the discussion. Keep up the good work, Cindy and Ann, as always insightful and relevant visions of the sport. GO BOWS !!!

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