Janet Kalaniuvalu is a sophomore outside hitter for Southern Utah’s volleyball team and a damn good one at that. She has had four games with 20 or more kills thus far in the season and has made a huge leap from last year when she posted 137 kills for the season.
Kalaniuvalu currently leads the Big Sky in kills per set with 3.92. She also happens to be the only underclassman in the top ten of the category.
For reference, she has 282 kills so far this season, with 11 games left to play. She’s already more than doubled her output from last season with a third of the season left to play.
“It’s a lot to do with my mental game,”Kalaniuvalu said. “I’m just become more confident as the years have gone on.”
Kalaniuvalu stuck out as the potential star of the team before Head Coach Pete Hoyer even arrived to take over the volleyball program last spring.
“I walked in the gym, and I was like ‘this kid is something else.’” Hoyer said. “It was actually before I even met her. As soon as I accepted the job I was watching video of last season and I knew (Kalaniuvalu) was a tremendous athlete and is well skilled. We knew she was going to be a big deal.”
Hoyer was impressed by Kalaniuvalu’s athleticism and skill that he designed the offense this year to get Kalaniuvalu as many touches as possible. Everytime Kalaniuvalu rotates into the front row, setter Alexis Averett looks to give Kalaniuvalu as many sets as possible.
As a team, SUU averages 11 kills per set. Janet gets almost four. Of Averett’s 624 assist on the season, 45 percent were slammed to the ground by Kalaniuvalu.
Defenses are very conscious of SUU’s reliance on their best player and often send two or three blockers at Kalaniuvalu to try and shut her down.
“Once we started playing Big Sky matches, anybody that watches (film of SUU’s previous matches) knows that they cannot leave her alone.” Hoyer said. “They’re camped on her. For Janet to be leading the conference in kills per set when everybody in North American volleyball knows that our success in going to run through her, that’s incredible. She’s unstoppable at times.”
Kalaniuvalu’s presence has almost become just as important to the T-Bird offense as her actual skill. While defenses flock to Janet, the rest of the offense opens up and Averett can distribute the ball to opposite hitter Emma Mangum, as well as middle hitters Miranda Canez and Anna Hopkins.
Coach Hoyer has worked with Kalaniuvalu on other aspects of her game as well. Kalaniuvalu has worked a lot of defense and passing to round out her skills.
Kalaniuvalu said that she’s motivated by her teammates and especially by her family.
“They’re really happy for me, cause we had to make a lot of sacrifices in high school just to play club (volleyball),” Kalaniuvalu said. “It’s really expensive to play club. I had to work throughout high school to be able to do that, and my family travelled far to play for one of the better club teams.”
Kalaniuvalu is an Exercise Science major and hopes to become a physical therapist after she graduates.
Thankfully for SUU volleyball, that won’t be for another two years. A brand new coach looking to inject life into a program could not hope for anything more than a star to build upon for the future of the program. That’s exactly what Janet Kalaniuvalu has been for SUU.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz