Dishing out dimes
Allen Community head volleyball coach Whitney Shaw was left searching for answers after her Lady Devils finished winless in the 2018 Jayhawk Conference.
While wading through emails, Shaw stumbled upon a recommendation and highlight tape on Laia Jaca, a setter from Puerto Rico. Although the tape was fuzzy and gave little indication as to Jaca’s talent, Shaw took a chance and decided to actively recruit Jaca.
It seems Jaca had the same instinct that ACC would be a good fit.
Though other schools came calling, Jaca committed to ACC before even visiting campus.
It was on a visit to ACC with her family that Shaw said they first got a chance to see Jaca in action. “We were like ‘wow, she is really good.’ After that, we knew she was going to be really good for us,” Shaw said.
In the beginning of the season, Shaw utilized a 6-2 offense that allowed Jaca along with Cheyanne Dube to be deployed as setters. Dube had featured consistently in 2018 as a setter for the Lady Devils. The biggest con to the 6-2 system is its inconsistency for hitters. Sets differ depending on the individual, and Shaw wanted timing along with consistency for her hitters. Shaw elected to change the system to a 5-1, featuring Jaca as the solo setter.
Before settling into her role on the court, Jaca needed to create chemistry with her teammates. Coming from Puerto Rico, Jaca’s first language is Spanish. Speaking through a translator, teammate Adriana Santiago, Jaca admits that the language barrier has been a minor roadblock.
“At first I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to communicate, and wasn’t talking too much,” Jaca said. “Eventually I learned the basics, like the numbers we have to run and calling the ball. That's how I adjusted to learn how to connect with the hitters.”
Jaca said that her teammates have played a key role in helping her learn English. Spanish speakers such as sophomore libero Celymar Cabranes, another product of Puerto Rico, and Santiago, helped translate any directions from Shaw that Jaca did not understand.
Shaw pointed out that although Jaca may not be completely comfortable speaking English, she is making massive strides with the language in the classroom during her first semester.
“Her English has come a long way. She is in composition one, so she writes papers in full English,” Shaw said. “Also, she is a really smart student.”
ACC finished the season 19-13 overall, and 4-6 in the conference, missing the postseason by one spot in the final standings. Jaca was the driving force for the Lady Devils, finishing with honorable mention all-conference honors as a setter.
Despite being used as a setter, Shaw describes Jaca as a complete volleyball player.
ACC head volleyball coach Whitney Shaw, left, and Laia Jaca. REGISTER/ERICK MITCHELL
“Something that Laia doesn’t get enough credit for is her defense, and ability to see the other side of the court,” Shaw said. “Typically, setters aren’t very good at defense, and you try to hit at them. If anyone tried to hit on Laia, it was easy for her. Her dig stats are comparable to some defensive specialists and liberos.”
Assistant Coach Sarah Baker stressed that achieving honors in the Jayhawk Conference is no easy feat, especially as a setter.
“Getting votes in the conference is extremely hard because we play in such a tough conference,” Baker said. “I think a lot of the time, other coaches, or other teams mostly remember hitters. But I think a lot of people don’t realize that those hits don’t come without a set. Having a consistent setter like Laia helped show off our hitters.”
Off the court, Jaca has enjoyed her first stint in the United States. Whether it be eating fast food, or visiting cities such as Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or Dallas, Jaca has savored it all.
Currently, Shaw is still organizing her plans for 2020, which include Jaca taking a leadership role.
Jaca is 100% onboard.
“I want to work on my jump-serve more, and make it more consistent,” Jaca said. “As far as the team, I want us to be more consistent, and together.”
While Jaca’s 5-5 frame may hinder looks from major schools, Shaw insists that Jaca’s ceiling is as high as she wants it to be when considering her post-ACC future.