Not even halfway through her senior season, Natalie Hagglund is already fast approaching USC’s all-time women’s volleyball records. As the starting libero for the Women of Troy for four seasons, she has been the constant as the team has gone through waves of success and disappointment.
But then, Natalie Hagglund is no stranger to riding waves.
Growing up in Encinitas, Calif., Hagglund has been paddling out and catching waves off the California coast almost all of her life. Though she surfed competitively — Hagglund won a county competition in middle school and was a member of the La Costa Canyon High School team — she never lost the peaceful sensation of being out on the board, alone with the waves. This freedom from anxiety has carried both her and her team through tight situations throughout her career.
“I think competing in surfing was big for me and my calmness,” Hagglund said of her relaxing presence on the court. “It kind of triggers your inner self. It’s a single sport so you have to be able to bring calmness to yourself.”
Her teammates have certainly noticed her presence on the court, and look to her often in high-pressure situations and during times when things appear bleak.
“I know that every time when I’m on the court and she’s on the court, I’ll look back at her first after somebody scores,” senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard said. “She’s the focal point of our team, the one who I put my trust in. She’s incredible to play with. She brings energy, she brings intensity.”
USC head coach Mick Haley appreciates Hagglund’s presence and her ability to be the glue of the team both on and off the court.
“We have a catalyst in Hagglund,” Haley said. “She’s the one that unifies everyone. We have a lot of people who have bought into that and follow her in that regard. She directs the energy in practice and our gym culture is what it is because Natalie brings it every day.”
Her ability to keep her cool yet still bring an intensity to the court seem at odds with one another, but Hagglund has found a special balance that allows them to work together for the good of the team. Of course, she’s been doing this volleyball thing for quite a while, too.
Fittingly, Hagglund started her career on the sand, becoming a state beach champion in the U-14 division in 2005. She went on to win a national championship in Junior Olympics beach volleyball in the U-16 division. Her indoor club team, the Encinitas Wave, also won a Junior Olympics championship in the U-16 division. Even before high school, success seemed to follow Hagglund wherever she went.
Once she did reach the prep ranks, she became a decorated star on the court. She earned first-team All-CIF San Diego Section honors in 2007, and by her senior year had earned first team All-American honors. Upon graduating, she was ranked as the nation’s top libero by Prep Volleyball. Despite her commitments to the school volleyball and surf teams, she was also able to continue her sand career throughout high school, and in 2009 was part of the youngest team ever to qualify for the AVP Manhattan Beach Open.
The key to her success? Hagglund is unrivaled in her desire to compete, a desire that has given her many opportunities to win titles and overcome stressful games.
“I’ve been competitive my whole life, and I’ve been playing volleyball and competing in volleyball forever,” Hagglund said. “I’ve gotten to play with the USA national team and have gotten to go to Peru where there are 15,000 people screaming at you, so I’ve learned to play through certain adversities.”
Hagglund’s college career seemed destined for greatness from the beginning, as she collected nine digs and one assist in her collegiate debut against Loyola Marymount, a match the Women of Troy swept. She would go on to start every game that season as USC’s starting libero, and was given a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team.
A sophomore slump was not in the cards for Hagglund, as she became the first USC libero ever to be named to the AVCA All-America first team. Not surprisingly, she was also named Pac-12 Conference Libero of the Year.
Coming off of a near-perfect season, Hagglund remarkably was able to improve upon her success in her junior year. Her 613 digs were good enough to put her third all-time on USC’s single season list, and she moved into second all-time at USC in career digs. Once again she received a selection to the AVCA All-America first team, and was named Pac-12 Libero of the Year.
Though it’s clear to see accolades have never eluded her, Hagglund is still searching for the one thing that eludes her on the court. When asked what the perfect ending to her USC career would be, there was no hesitation: She wants to win a national championship.
“I’ve been thinking about it since my freshman year,” she said. “I’ve been to the Final Four my freshman and sophomore year and just missed it last year, so winning with this group of girls would be the most amazing finish. For me it has nothing to do with me ending with my best career finish statistically or awards. Honestly I just want that ring; I want to be able to wear that championship hat with pride at the beach. I want that memory with these girls, to accomplish something that great with my favorite people.”
She is certainly off to a great start this season, leading USC to a 14-1 start, including a 4-0 Pac-12 record. If things continue as they have been for the Women of Troy, Hagglund might yet be able to attain that final goal, a championship ring that would look awfully good gleaming in the light as she paddles out into the sunset of her career.
Follow Kurt on Twitter @legen_daryKurt