LAYTON — From the time Eliza Katoa was a small girl, she’s shown a kind of resourcefulness and determination that makes her successful — no matter what her endeavor.
“She’s super intense,” said her mom, Elizabeth Katoa. “Everything she does, she wants to do it her best. Whatever she wants, she figures out how to become the very best at it. She finds role models, learns what they do, and then says, ‘I want to do that too.’”
As a volleyball player, Katoa’s drive allowed her to capitalize on her natural athletic ability. Her talent and leadership helped the Lancers to a second-place finish in region play and a fourth-place finish in the 5A state tournament. For her efforts and accomplishments, Katoa also earned the 2013 Deseret News Ms. Volleyball award.
“She’s so dang good, and she takes every aspect of volleyball to the extreme,” said Layton head coach Destree Donahue. “I think she just reminded me why I love volleyball so much. She’s just a fun player to watch.”
Donahue was an assistant in the Layton program before taking over this fall. She said she was witness to Katoa’s maturity and growth on the court.
“She’s definitely grown as a player this last year,” Donahue said. “She came back after the club season and was really refined, really smart about how she would place the ball. Whereas before, she was such a strong hitter, she’d just get up and hit the ball really hard. She learned she could get just as many kills by placing the ball or tipping the ball if necessary.”
Katoa led the Lancers in most statistical categories. The four-year starter, who signed with the University of Utah earlier this fall, finished her career with 1,637 kills, 635 digs, 114 solo blocks, 161 block assists and 187 aces.
“She understands the game,” Donahue said. “She is a student of the game, and as the game is playing, she sees and understands the flow of the game. Overall, she’s just an amazing player in every aspect, but obviously, she’s an extreme power hitter.”
Katoa is an exceptional hitter, but she’s also a reliable passer with an eye that helps coaches make adjustments.
“She’s such a smart player,” Donahue said. “And this year, she really understood her role on the team. She was a captain for us, and she took that role really seriously. I’d stay after practice to work with some of the girls, and she’d stay and give them pointers.”
Katoa helped build her teammates’ volleyball skills, as well as their confidence.
“She really understood that in order for us to be successful, they had to be successful,” Donahue said. “We had a really young team this year.”
Katoa injured her knee last year and missed much of the season. While it helped the team develop other players, it was difficult for her to watch from the sidelines. The one thing she always did, Donahue said, was stay involved with the team and her teammates.
Elizabeth Katoa said volleyball means a lot to her third child, but is far from her only accomplishment. A high honor roll student (3.98 GPA), she will graduate early and enroll in classes at the University of Utah in January.
“Volleyball has definitely been a huge part of her life, but it’s not the only thing,” Elizabeth said. “It’s something she loves, but it’s also helped her figure out balance too. She knows it takes extra time to improve, and she puts in the time, so she’s worked hard in school.”
The game has instilled in her a work ethic that she applies to other areas of her life. She’s involved in a Polynesian dance group that performs free shows for various nonprofits. She also ran track last year for the first time, and discovered a new passion. She finished fourth in the 100-meter sprint and fifth in the long jump at the state championships.
“She discovered she loves to run, and it helped her in volleyball,” said her mom. “It helped her get quicker.”
Katoa is also an entrepreneur and has worked while playing varsity sports and carrying a tough class load. As much as Elizabeth Katoa enjoys discussing her daughter’s accomplishments — on on and off the court — it’s her personality that really makes her smile.
“She’s a delightful person,” her mom said. “She’s really talkative. She could talk from up north all the way down to Provo, nonstop, from the time she was little. She has always known what she wants and she has a lot to say and do. And it’s really nice to raise someone like that.”
And when it comes to the game, Katoa is the kind of player who makes you relish the game — whether playing, watching or coaching.
“She’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime player,” Donahue said. “And I was lucky enough to have her my first year as a head coach.”
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