As the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team gears up for a pivotal week in the Big West Conference, one standout player finds herself grappling with events far from the islands and away from the court.

Rainbow Wahine freshman outside-hitter, Tali Hakas, has provided a spark to the lineup throughout the season on the volleyball court, but the Israel native’s heart is very much with her homeland.

Last year, the 20-year-old completed her mandatory service in the Israeli Army, rising to the rank of sergeant. The recent news of Hamas militant attacks near the Gaza border, leading to a declaration of war, hit Hakas particularly hard, especially with her family still in Israel, including two brothers currently serving in the army.

Although family and friends have communicated their safety, the anguish of being 14,000 miles away is palpable for the student athlete.

“I think on Saturday it was the hardest day,” Hakas shared, needing to pause momentarily to wipe the tears from her cheek. “But at the same time, I put it in my head that I was playing that day for my family, my country. Coming to practice usually distracts me, but these days it’s tough to maintain my energy. Still, I know I have the support of my team. They understand and back me.”

Head Coach Robyn Ah Mow of the Rainbows describes Hakas’s resilience and spirit as “inspirational.”

As the team hits the road this week, they face a major showdown against first-place UC Santa Barbara on Friday, followed by a matchup with 5-and-1 Cal Poly on Saturday.

For more updates and coverage before and after the matches, stay with KHON2 Sports on-air and online throughout the week.