Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Sophomore libero Natalie Hagglund's game face presents a paradox given the competitive fire that burns within her.
While most student-athletes illustrate passion for competition with a fierce scowl or an intense stare, she prefers a simple smile.
"I think I just enjoy being a part of this and having an opportunity to play at the college level, and that appreciation shows on the court," said Hagglund, who will lead USC into Galen Center Friday night against UCLA at 7 p.m. "I have always felt that if you are going to work on something, you should love waking up to do it every day and I do."
Hagglund's win-at-all-costs style and unwavering level of optimism made her an instant favorite among teammates during last season's run to the Final Four.
"I feel comfortable with my role on this team, and in who I am out on the court," said Hagglund who recorded a team-high 497 digs and 18 service aces in 34 matches last season. "I try to show my competitive spirit at all times, and I hope that rubs off on my teammates."
While she continues to find success on the hardwood, Hagglund says she hasn't forgotten about her time on the waves. The 19-year-old's competitive drive and upbeat personality largely stems from her days on a surf board.
"I love competitive surfing because it was just one more thing in my life that allowed me to compete," said Hagglund, who won the 2007 San Diego County High School Girls' Long Board Surfing Championship. "I am the ultimate competitor, whether it's in the classroom, on a board or out on the court."
Hagglund (photo by North County Times) insists that important parallels can be found between the two sports.
"In surfing, you have 20 minutes to find a good wave and that's it," said Hagglund. "The only way you can achieve that goal is if you remain optimistic. I know the challenge in volleyball is not exactly the same, but you still need that same burst of optimism."
Hagglund has plenty to be positive about on an individual level. This summer, as a member of the USA Junior National Team, she was named the Best Libero at the 2011 FIVB Volleyball Women's Junior World Championships in Peru.
"That experience was so amazing for me," said Hagglund. "I feel so fortunate to have had a chance to play in front of large crowds in that type of environment against top teams like Italy and Brazil."
Now back on American soil, Hagglund's banner summer hasn't changed her one bit, as her all-too-familiar smile still remains a constant on the court. These days though, she has begun to lead not only with her pearly whites and supportive cheers, but with a booming voice only befitting of the Trojans' newest floor general.