Admiration for Ainise: Havili leads KU volleyball in many ways

Kansas junior setter Ainise Havili celebrates a point against West Virginia on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 at Horejsi Center.

Kansas junior setter Ainise Havili celebrates a point against West Virginia on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 at Horejsi Center.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Kansas volleyball program continues to reach new heights, clinching its first-ever Big 12 title Saturday.

One of the biggest reasons for the Jayhawks’ success is their do-it-all, All-American setter Ainise Havili.

Kansas coach Ray Bechard called Havili, “the heart and soul of our team,” leading the Jayhawks to a 25-2 record and No. 4 ranking into Saturday's regular-season finale at Baylor.

The 5-foot-10 junior Havili plays arguably the toughest position on the court, placing the ball in the right spot for each hitter and making sure everyone is on the same page.

Nobody appreciates Havili more than the teammates who benefit from her skills. Earlier this season, several of her teammates were asked to identify which attribute of Havili’s they most admire.

“Oh my gosh, everything,” libero Cassie Wait said. “Just her understanding of what needs to be done when it’s done. She just has a great volleyball knowledge and she runs the court so well. You’d consider it the quarterback style.”

Wait couldn’t stop there.

“Her ability to be a leader, and it’s not always through verbal communication,” Wait said. “More times than not, she throws the team on her back and she runs that offense and she can still do everything else and it’s pretty awesome.”

Outside hitter Madison Rigdon pointed to Havili’s intensity and competitive nature.

“She brings up the energy on the court and wants people to play hard for her,” Rigdon said. “A really good quality to have is bringing your teammates with you and having that intensity to bring everybody along. I think that’s a really good quality.”

Setter Maggie Anderson and middle blocker Tayler Soucie both cited Havili’s confidence.

“Even when she’s having a so-called bad game, you would never notice it on her posture or anything,” Anderson said. “She’s always going for the hard, good points. If she’s down, she doesn’t slump her shoulders, she doesn’t do eye-rolls, she’s always fighting.”

Said Soucie: “Ainise has confidence like no other. She stays calm, cool and collected. Through the struggle and through frustration, you can’t really tell it on her face. She also has the confidence that she’s going to choose the right people to set at the right time, or she’ll make her dump at the right time.”

Defensive specialist Tori Miller pointed to Havili’s physical ability and how she can find a hitter’s pocket from anywhere on the court.

“All of us are naturally athletic here, I mean we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t,” Miller said. “But she’s just so natural and fluid on the court. ... She could set from the back corner, all the way over there (pointing) and it could be a perfect ball.”

Junior middle blocker Kayla Cheadle brought the Havili conversation to a different part of the court.

“At the net, she’s super aggressive,” Cheadle said. “When she jousts at other players, she never loses those. That’s something I definitely admire about her and would definitely steal that aggressiveness.”

Then there’s her serve. Havili ranks seventh in the Big 12 with 24 aces this season.

“She has a bomb serve,” defensive specialist Addison Barry said. “Her serve is lights out coming at you, intimidation factor, the whole nine. If I could take anything from Ainise and put it into my own game, it would definitely be her aggressive, consistent serve.”

With her teammates pointing to several different attributes of her game, it proves why Havili is regarded as one of the best setters in the country.

"She amazes me every day,” junior All-American outside hitter Kelsie Payne said. “Sometimes she’ll go up with one hand and just throw the ball across the court. I can’t even do that with two hands and she makes it look so easy with one hand. We’re lucky to have her, for sure.”