Utah volleyball: Adora Anae powers Utes, advances family legacy
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Adora Anae is a steadily rising star for the University of Utah volleyball team. Anae was photographed after practice on the Crimson Court in Salt Lake City, Wednesday September 28, 2016.
For a long time, there's been an established hierarchy.
Adora Anae is the girl from Hawaii. Or if not that, the girl from Kahuku High School. Or if not that, Brad Anae's daughter. Or if not that, even Bradlee Anae's sister.
"It's just a lot of pressure being raised in a family that's so tough on athletics," she said. "Comparing yourself to your parents, your siblings and to your cousins, too."
Here's the thing: The junior volleyball player for the Utes is a legitimate star in her own right, leading the Pac-12 in kills and serving as the lead scoring threat for the 12-2 Utes, ranked No. 25 in the nation this week.
Adora Anae's career on the court is pressing her name — and her individual achievements — more firmly in new spaces, and perhaps nowhere more notable than Utah's record book. In crunch time in recent Top 25 wins over BYU and Colorado, she's Utah's go-to player. And there's rarely anything opponents can do about it.
"You may be able to stop Adora, but you can't stop her completely," Coach Beth Launiere said. "When she gets set a lot at the end of a match, she's going to get her kills."
At 6-foot-1 and with long, slender arms, Anae is built for the game. She's not the biggest leaper, Launiere said, but she's got reach, and her power is among the elite hitters.
Anae doesn't rotate out, which is unusual for a hitter that plays as physically as she does. Opponents try to wear her out by serving to her more often, and forcing her to play defense. Yet invariably at the end of games, Anae is arguably at her best.
In Utah's win over then-No. 9 BYU on Sept. 15, Anae scored five kills in Utah's fifth and clinching set, including the last two. It was the crowning moment of a school-record 32 kills she scored in that game, frustrating the Cougars in Provo.
"There was a picture where I think Adora had just blocked them," freshman setter Bailey Choi said. "They're just all on the ground, and we're up and cheering. And they're just like, sad."
Anae's own ties to BYU are many: Her father was an all-conference defensive lineman for the Cougars who went on to play in the NFL and USFL. Brad Anae was one of three brothers who played for the Cougars. One of whom, Robert Anae, went on to serve as the offensive coordinator there.
Between the BYU side of the family and her Utah family members (cousin Wendy Anae plays for the basketball team, while brother Bradlee is a defensive end on the football team), Adora's phone was blowing up after the match. Even though she had many relatives who cautioned her from going to Utah when she was being recruited, she's managed to convert a few.
"My dad did text me, 'Go Utes, but I wouldn't be sad if the Cougars won,' and I was like, 'Dad, why would you say that?' " she said "But they all root for me and Wendy now. There's no one left at BYU, so they're behind us."
It wasn't clear early on that Adora would live up to her family name in sports, and she faced stiff competition from her siblings. Her sister Pati is a standout player at Portland State. Bradlee was a three-star linebacker and end for Kahuku. Even her younger sister Bradina has competed in international powerlifting events as a teenager.
Adora was skinny throughout high school, and spent a chunk of her high school career muddling through a shoulder injury. Up through her junior year, her most notable offer was Hawaii, though she politely told the Rainbow Warriors she wished to go to school on the mainland.
Launiere first spotted her in the dark confines of the Hawaii gym, in town for a combine to see other players. But in her eyes, Adora was going to be something special.
"She was long, a little skinnier, long arms, and she wasn't even playing much," Launiere said. "You don't know the mentality, so you never know how good. But the Anae gene pool is real — everybody who follows sports in Utah knows it. Every Anae I know is a great competitor."
Launiere's eyes didn't deceive her: Anae appears on her way to a third-straight spot on the all-conference team. With 243 kills so far — No. 9 in the nation — she's on pace to break the 501-kill single-season record she set last year. Each of the last two summers, she's played overseas, most recently leading a Pac-12 All-Stars roster in kills during a tour through China.
Teammates say Adora is a "goofball," the first to crack an inside joke and ease the tension mid-match, or a ringleader of off-court cookouts and movie nights. She's also a responsible sister: She recently drove Bradlee to a 6 a.m. football meeting when he was running late ("I've told him he has to grow up," she said).
There's plenty of challenges ahead. Ranked UCLA and USC come to town this weekend, testing Utah's success this season. Anae will be ready to live up to her reputation, just like she has been her whole life.
"I imagined it was tough: I mean, nothing is ever easy, but I've enjoyed challenging myself," she said. "I will never change playing for my family and my community, representing Kahuku, Hawaii, and my last name."