Hernandez vs. ECU

Freshman libero Saskia Hernandez digs against ECU on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 in Reynolds Coliseum. The Wolfpack defeated the Pirates 3-0 in Hernandez's collegiate debut.

With a new season of NC State volleyball finally underway, a slew of new recruits are looking to make their marks on the program over the next few years. Chief among them is freshman defensive specialist and libero Saskia Hernandez, a talented player out of Miami who is leading the charge for head coach Luka Slabe as he tries to build a winning culture for Wolfpack volleyball.

Despite the distance between Miami and Raleigh, Hernandez is no stranger to the ACC. Her mom and dad both competed for the Miami Hurricanes, running track and field and playing baseball, respectively. Her sister Sylvia is a former Hurricanes volleyball player and her sister Priscilla is currently playing volleyball at Miami. Despite her family’s extensive history at the U, Saskia Hernandez actually sought to forge her own path by coming to NC State.

Some may wonder: why NC State? Even with Slabe building a solid program since he was brought on in February of 2020, Wolfpack volleyball is still very much in repair mode. The Pack last posted a winning season in 2018 and only has two NCAA Championships appearances since 2010, its last berth coming in 2017. But Hernandez was dead set on forging her own path in collegiate volleyball, and NC State’s program was too good a fit to pass up.

“My family, we have legacy at the University of Miami, and everyone kind of expected me to go there; everyone kind of assumed that that would be the spot for me,” Hernandez said. “But I obviously wanted to expand my horizons, build a legacy elsewhere. And when I knew Luka was on the coaching staff, and [associate head coach Megan Wargo-Kearney], and I talked to them; I automatically knew that this place was for me.”

Slabe is a decorated coach in the volleyball world, recently adding Olympic gold medalist to his resume. As an assistant coach, Slabe aided USA women’s volleyball in Tokyo on its run to the first Olympic gold medal in program history. After arriving at NC State, Slabe is seeking to utilize student athletes like Hernandez to build a winning culture with the Wolfpack based on success both on the court and in the classroom.

“She's exceptional in the classroom,” Slabe said. “We knew that when she was coming in, and we also know she's a gym rat. She's dedicated to the sport of volleyball.”

Hernandez also comes to Raleigh with a position change, transitioning from her high school position of outside hitter to the libero of the future for the Pack. Despite her switch from a primarily offensive position to a primarily defensive one, Slabe is confident that Hernandez’s talent and tenacity will translate to the collegiate level, no matter where she is positioned on the court.

“You don't win without competing, and she's a competitor,” Slabe said. “So that's where she can have an instant impact, just her presence all-out in practice can be something that can help us dramatically.”

As far as when Hernandez will begin making that impact, State volleyball fans are advised to circle Oct. 3 on their calendars, as that is when Hernandez and the Pack travel to Miami to take on her sister Priscilla and the Hurricanes. Given that Saskia and Priscilla both switched from outside hitter to libero upon entering college, the match is bound to be teeming with the competitive but positive spirit of sibling rivalry as the sisters compete to see who is the better college libero.

“I'm so excited, we always talk about it,” Hernandez said. “It’s actually on my birthday, which is actually super funny. Me and my sister, we are best friends. So of course she’ll be like ‘I'm gonna beat you,’ saying things, joking around because we're siblings and of course we want to beat each other. … We're both excited, it'll be fun. My family's gonna be there and it's my hometown. Everyone wants to go to that game, so it'll be a fun matchup.”