Why Choose WU? Athlete Spotlight Series

Freshman Volleyball player says Aloha to Waynesburg

By: Erin Onderko

For the Yellow Jacket

Some of us can only dream of going to Hawaii, even for a one-time trip.

But for Freshman volleyball player Mickayla “Bani” Baniaga, the Hawaiian Islands are the place she calls home.

Taking a flight lasting over ten hours, Baniaga left her hometown of Honolulu to come over four thousand miles away to Western Pennsylvania. After getting a mailer from Waynesburg, she decided to apply and send in her volleyball highlights to coach Emily Taylor, who reached out to her about playing for the Lady Jackets.

“I was getting college mailers and decided to apply everywhere, and this was one of the schools,” said Baniaga, “I also knew I wanted to continue playing volleyball, so I sent my video to whatever coaches needed it. I just so happened to send one here and got word back from coach Taylor.”

Having graduated from Kamehameha Schools, Baniaga is majoring in Exercise Science/Athletic Training here at WU. She began her high school career at Sacred Hearts, an all-girls school in Honolulu, where she was a setter for their team of twelve.

After that season, she transferred to Kamehameha where she had to sit out her sophomore season due to transfer rules but kept active by playing as a libero and outside hitter for a local club team.

Baniaga’s Junior year would ultimately end up being her last season of high school volleyball, during which she was an outside hitter. Baniaga was not able to play during her senior year of high school due to there being too many girls wanting to play her position, so she instead served as a team manager and practiced with the team, which ended up winning the state championship.

Although her college team has only been together for a little over a month, the girls have already started to form close bonds with one another and with their coach.

Taylor mentioned that she believes her previous role as the assistant volleyball coach at W&J will give her team a confidence boost and let them know she is serious about being a competitive PAC team. She also spoke about how proud she was of her girls’ work ethic.

“They don’t give up.” said Taylor, “No matter what kind of drill or conditioning I throw at them, there’s no complaining. They get on the line and they do it. They are being super honest and open with me, and I think it is going to make them better.”

Not only are the girls working hard together on the court, but they are also making incredible efforts to support each other outside of practice.

“This past Friday, they heard I was a little homesick.” said Baniaga, “Somehow they got together and they were able to make this dish we have back home called Spam Musibi, and surprised me at one of the girls’ houses when we had dinner.”

This seemingly small dish of spam, seaweed, and rice meant more than words could express to Baniaga.

“I was so shocked.” she said, “I didn’t know what to say, because I was so happy that they were so welcoming and supportive of me being away from home and making sure that I feel okay and safe.”

Baniaga intends on repaying their kindness by showing her support for her teammates during their time on the court, explaining that she loves when people cheer her on and encourage her and that she intends to do the same for her teammates.

While both Taylor and Baniaga want to play and to win, both are grateful for the wonderful chemistry the team has formed during their time together this fall.

Coach Taylor also had high praise for Baniaga, and the contribution she believes she will make to the team.

“Mickayla brings so much energy!” said Taylor, “She is a little spitfire. She brings a different kind of energy and effort into our gym, which I think is going to help push our returning athletes and everyone else on her team. I’m hoping she can bring that kind of effort and motivate her teammates to give the same effort too. “

Taylor also commented on some great plays Baniaga has made during practice, and her impressive ability to read the other team as well as her incredible ball control skills.

“We are looking for players who are going to come in and make a change, and I think Mickayla can find the court this spring if she keeps working as hard as she is.”