Penina's fire - Tucson News Now

Penina's fire

Tucson, AZ (KOLD) At one point during Arizona’s match against Butler, new Wildcat transfer Katarina Pilepic got blocked while attempting a kill. Teammate Penina Snuka took exception.

“I just yelled at her,” said Snuka. “I’m sure I said a couple swear words.”

Whatever she said, it was enough to surprise Pilepic.

“She didn’t know how to react,” said Snuka. “She told (Wildcat head coach) Dave (Rubio) that she didn’t know how to play for me. She didn’t know how to play behind someone who was like that. I didn’t get offended.”

Snuka wasn’t offended because she understood.

“I’m not an emotional person but I express a lot,” she said. “My biggest challenge is always trying to stay steady and level headed. Every now and then it tends to rise.”

If there is one trademark of Snuka’s game, it’s her intensity. It’s what makes her such a great competitor. But there’s a catch.

“When it’s game time, I flip a switch,” she said. “That switch can be very dramatic as someone who’s very playful. Likes to laugh a lot. But when we get into the game, it’s a whole other person. I’m there to compete. I’m there to win.”

“She tends to get a little upset and angry with the players if they’re not competing at the same level or executing at the same level that she thinks they should be,” said Rubio. “In the past, she’d let them know that. Now she’s really good at saying the right things and saying it in a way that they’re going to be receptive.”

“I feel like it’s almost night and day,” said Snuka. “If you would have looked at me from my freshman year and how I talked to the team to seeing where I am now there’s a huge gap. I feel I’m more approachable.”

It’s not hard to see where that intensity comes from. Just take a look at her genetics.

Snuka’s grandfather is former professional wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. Her aunt current wrestles for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment as Tamina Snuka. Her father Jimmy Jr. also wrestled for WWE as Deuce.

Speaking of her father, years ago, when it became clear that volleyball was her future, Jimmy Jr. became her trainer.  And he was strict.

One day, Dad found Daughter enjoying a meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“He just came into the house and started taking it away. He took away my chicken. He took away my biscuits. He was like, “Oh, you can’t have this. You can’t have this.” And I just broke down in tears.”

When Snuka’s mother came to her defense, Jimmy’s response was simple.

“She’s in training.”

And she was. At the time, Snuka was preparing to go on college recruitment visits, preparing to take her volleyball career to the next level.

She was 13 years-old.

“Taking away the KFC, as a kid I was little scarred from it,” she said. “But he told me it would help me be better in volleyball so I just listened to him.”

When she arrived at Arizona, Snuka wasn’t necessarily as demanding of teammates because, as Rubio said, “She was just trying to survive. She was just trying to hang on for dear life.”

“I came in as a freshman a little scared but not really. Then as the years progressed my intensity kind of grew but my communication wasn’t very good. But this year I personally think it’s gotten between in terms of being able to communicate with Dave and also being able to talk to the players.”

So yes, Snuka has changed, grown, and developed into the leader Rubio needed her to be. The best part? She didn’t have to sacrifice any part of her personality to get to this point.

“I never lost who I was. I’ve learned to adjust. You always have to stay true to who you are and yourself as a person.”

As for PIlepic, two months after that exchange with Snuka, how would she describe her setter?

“She’s a great teammate.”

The Wildcats host Utah Wednesday afternoon at 4:00pm. It will be Snuka’s final home game as a Wildcat.

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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