Prep Volleyball: Katoa swinging for success at Layton

Prep Volleyball • Junior outside hitter becoming a leader for Lancers.
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It's advisable to move out of Eliza Katoa's way when she goes up for a kill.

The Layton junior's spikes streak down like comets, and they are almost as hard to defend. And the feeling she gets when she scores — well, it's like nothing else.

"I love being a big hitter, and I love being aggressive," she said. "Sometimes my coaches tell me I get too excited to hit."

When Katoa does go in for the big swing, her coaches mostly are thrilled. The junior, an all-state selection at outside hitter last year, has established herself as one of the state's top talents.

It's impossible to overlook the raw physical ability: Her lofty vertical leap as well as her considerable hitting power. But Lancers coach Ricci Vowles says it's her attitude that sets her apart.

"She has that natural desire, that fire that you can't coach or teach," Vowles said. "She wants to win, and she's willing to work hard for it."

Considering her roots, Katoa's success shouldn't surprise anyone. She's the third daughter of Fotu Katoa, a football All-American at BYU, and Elizabeth Katoa, a track All-American at BYU. Her older sister Mariah plays volleyball at Weber State.

Eliza's verbal commitment this summer to play at Utah might have stirred up her Cougar-aligned household, but not as much as one might think. She says her parents just are excited to see her following the family athletic tradition.

"It's funny because I've always been raised BYU, but when I visited Utah, I fell in love with it," Katoa said. "It's the whole package: I want to play in the Pac-12, it's the coaching staff I want to play for, I love the school. It's the perfect fit, and my parents support me wherever I go."

But even as Katoa gets a better idea of her future, she knows there's still things she must do to make herself a more complete player. When she started volleyball at 11, she cared about her offensive game and brushed a lot off.

But Katoa has realized with time that the best college players are well-rounded and can contribute in all facets of the game. So she's worked on her defense, setting up teammates and being patient.

"She's definitely been more willing to get underneath the ball and try to pass well," Vowles said. "She's not selfish, and she's the first to take responsibility for losing a point."

For Katoa, it's a part of maturing. As the top returning player on a team that finished fifth in the Class 5A state tournament this season, she will be one of the big weapons for a depth-deficient Layton squad.

Although the core is young, the Lancers are hopeful. Having a player like Katoa around tends to inspire optimism.

"We don't get 50 or 60 girls at tryouts, but our success comes through working hard," she said. "That's our strength."

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Eliza Katoa at a glance

Junior outside hitter for Layton

All-state first team in 2011 season

Verbally committed to Utah

Sister Mariah Katoa plays volleyball at Weber State

Parents were All-Americans at BYU