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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Leilani-kai Giusta’s path to Quinnipiac was far from conventional

Memory loss shortened her recruiting window, then her first school disbanded its athletics program
Nicholas Pestritto
Freshman outside hitter Leilani-kai Giusta hails from the Hawaiian island of Oahu. She moved nearly 5,000 miles to join the Bobcats. “Adjusting hasn’t been too crazy so far,” Giusta said.

 In her sophomore year of high school, Leilani-kai Giusta suffered a catastrophic concussion.

“We were in this (volleyball) clinic and a girl had a really hard hit and I was standing on the side,” Giusta said. “I got hit in the face, then whiplash, and the back of my head hit like the metal corner of the wall.”

“It was scary, I know it’s weird to think about but things never came back instantly,” Giusta added. “It was kind of all foggy. So if I (saw) someone, I wouldn’t recognize them at first.”

The now-Quinnipiac freshman outside hitter was rushed to the hospital. Soon the Giusta family discovered something truly harrowing: that their daughter had lost her memory. Giusta couldn’t remember her family, friends or why she was even inside her own home.

School was never the same for Giusta, and she had to relearn everything she had been taught in high school. That experience paled in comparison to the toll the injury and memory loss took on her emotionally — something she described as “surreal” and an “out-of-body experience.”

Fast forward to today and Giusta is Quinnipiac volleyball’s newest Hawaiian phenom. In just 10 games of MAAC play, she’s already fifth in the conference in kills per set and fourth in points per set. She’s already proven to be a valuable member of a squad fresh off of their first ever MAAC Championship, earning two MAAC Rookie of the Week awards and one MAAC Player of the Week award.

Despite the quick start, the adjustment to college life in Connecticut has been an unexpectedly tame one. On the island of Oahu, her hometown of Kane’ohe is nearly 5,000 miles away, meaning there’s some differences to get used to. She would often spend her time back home outdoors, playing beach volleyball, surfing, hiking and taking pictures of the scenery.

“Adjusting hasn’t been too crazy so far, but I think the biggest thing would be the cold, and it hasn’t been too bad yet,” Giusta said. “So ask me that question in a couple of months and I’ll hate it.”

Volleyball culture in Hawaii is intense. Whether you’re playing on the beach or indoors, volleyball is ubiquitous on the islands. Between the culture and Giusta’s mother Tammy, who played volleyball at Sonoma State University, she was bound to learn the game somewhere.

“She had a passion and she kind of had to because I was coaching,” Tammy said. “We started when she was young but she pursued it on her own. Then I stopped coaching when (Giusta) stopped listening to me around 14 years old.”

Giusta’s skills in volleyball grew, by high school, Tammy saw her daughter swinging for the fences in crunch time. That’s when she realized she had a real fighter when it came to the game. Little did she know, the injury would prove that even more so.

“It was a hard time,” Tammy said. “She held it together and really held us together. We gave her all the support we could and the doctors did too.”

When it came to being in certain familiar locations, Giusta found herself feeling a sort of deja vu. While the process of regaining the bulk of her memory took around four months, she remarked that it took a few weeks to start remembering her family and best friends.

After such a stressful eight months of total recovery, Giusta was caught on the back foot when it came to college recruiting. Many west coast schools already had their teams set by the time she began asking around, so she tried for the east. She felt like she found a home at St. Francis Brooklyn. Giusta liked the urban atmosphere that Brooklyn offered. If she couldn’t be closer to home in California, why not go to New York City to experience something brand new? Unfortunately, that dream came crashing down when in the spring of 2023, St. Francis Brooklyn announced it was cutting all athletics at the end of the season.

Giusta was forced to pivot, and she was talking to Quinnipiac before she accepted her scholarship at St. Francis.

“I actually was embarrassed to reach out to Quinnipiac again, because I hadn’t told (Associate Head Coach) Katie (Urycki) that I committed anywhere else. I just didn’t say anything,” Giusta said. “So she reached out to me again, and she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I heard about St. Francis. We actually still have an outside hitter position scholarship available if you’re still interested.’ So that was really a blessing in disguise and I had committed a few days later.”

In her first year at Quinnipiac, Leilani-kai Giusta sits fifth in the MAAC in kills per set. (Tyler Rinko)

When it came to Giusta, though she is from the nation’s 50th state, like many of Quinnipiac volleyball’s international students, Robinson found her style of play captivating when scouting her at an annual volleyball combine in Hawaii.

“I’ve always liked the Hawaiian style of play,” Robinson said. “I’m not anti-(mainland) American, but yeah, the American game is just weak. It’s just not focused on the style of play that I like: good ball control, and creativity from setting. Instead (in mainland America) we grow big and strong and just go hit balls like almost cavewoman style. Well, there’s an art to it.”

Giusta and all of the women on the Bobcats’ roster, fit the bill that Robinson looks for, and that’s players with flavor. When it comes to assimilating to a primarily white institution, Robinson feels like he’s cultivated enough flavor for his players to feel comfortable.

“I think Leilani’s doing a great job,” Robinson said. “I think she’s enjoying being here and I think it’s a surprise to her even. And this is what I tell people about Quinnipiac, like it’s not what you think, right? We are predominantly (a) white private school, but we have a lot of flavor. Even when I was playing against Quinnipiac back in the day, it was known as being like the snobby place. I don’t ever feel that here now.”

When it comes to her teammates, they have nothing but kind words for the freshman. Regardless of whether they’re old friends from Hawaii like junior libero Fa’avae Kimsel Moe or senior setter Chloe Ka’ahanui or new friends from all over the globe, Giusta has already made her mark on Quinnipiac volleyball.

“She came in really easily, and she’s a really easy person to get along with,” junior opposite hitter Alexandra Tennon said. “She does bring a lot of fire and passion to her game. You can always count on her.”

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Tyler Rinko, Associate Photography Editor

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    Gene SellOct 19, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks you . Very nice article very enjoyable reading