Hanna Hellvig

Hanna Hellvig greets UH fans after the Wahine took down UCLA 3-0.

The 2019 season has been one of change for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team. After losing both its kills and assists leader from a year ago, the team welcomed four transfers and five true freshmen to the team. Many of those newcomers have become key contributors for the team, but perhaps none more than true freshman Hanna Hellvig.

Hellvig comes to Hawai’i by way of Sweden, the fifth player in program history to do so.

“I’m honored,” Hellvig said of continuing the legacy. “Sweden is so far away from here, so its super cool that people actually come here from there. I want to keep this going, I want more people from Sweden to come here. Its super cool that there’s history here.”

Born in Lidingo, Sweden to volleyball playing parents Charlotte and Anders Hellvig, Hanna has always been destined for a career in volleyball.

“[My parents] have taught me a lot,” Hellvig said of her early upbringing. “[My dad] was my coach when I was younger. My family likes to joke that I was sitting  in the ball cart when I was young during my dad’s games. I’ve just grown up with volleyball. It was always around me. I tried other sports, but I didn’t really like them. When we finally got a good club team I could play for, I just started going for it.”

Even before coming to Hawai’i, Hellvig experienced moving away from home for volleyball. Her early love for the sport led her to Ållebergs Gymnasiet in Falköping, the national volleyball high school for Sweden. There, she lettered in volleyball three times, and helped lead the team to the U19-Nevza gold medal in 2018, while winning the Falköping Athletic Award in 2019.

“It was a great experience,” Hellvig said. “I got to live away from home for three years, in apartments with my best friends. So far definitely the best three years of my life. I definitely developed a lot of skills [at Ållebergs Gymnasiet], and I got to become a key player for our team, which was really fun. That prepared me really well for Hawai’I”

However, that wasn’t the only place Hellvig made a mark in her prep career. As a high schooler, she made 13 appearances with the Swedish senior national team, while racking up 35 appearances with the junior national team.

“I always thought it was so cool,” Hellvig said. “Before the games, when we stand there together and listen to the national anthem, I just get goosebumps. It’s an amazing experience.”

As a member of the national teams, Hellvig led the U19 team to a gold medal in 2018, as well as silver in 2017 and bronze in 2016. She was named to the all-tournament team in all three medal-winning years.

“I’ve learned a lot from playing international volleyball,” Hellvig said. “I’ve just seen all these other great teams that we’ve played against, and I get inspired by the other players. As for the honors, it’s really been great to have it confirmed that I’m doing good, that I’m trying my best to become the player I want to become. I’m really happy with my accomplishments.”

Hellvig was also an accomplished player in beach volleyball, winning the Swedish Beach Tour in 2018 and placing 5th at the Senior Swedish national championships.

“It was crazy when we won the Beach Tour in Kalma,” Hellvig said. “We were playing against the Thurin twins, the best players in Sweden. Me and my friend Sofia [Andersson] who’s my age, we played them in the final. It was the best game I’ve ever played in my life. I’ve never been that good. At the national championships, we played a really tight quarter finals, and we played really well. But then we had some calls against us from the referee and we missed a few balls. It was just super close. I’m very happy that we played so well that tournament.”

In addition to volleyball on the beach, Hellvig also played volleyball in the snow.

“It’s quite similar to beach volleyball, but it’s played in snow instead of sand,” Hellvig said. “You have three players on each team instead of two, and the sets only go to 15, at least in Sweden. It’s a super fun concept and a super fun sport. It’s very slippery to play in snow. We played on a lake, so there was ice underneath the snow. It was kind of weird, and sometimes when you dive you go through the snow and hit the ice. It kind of hurts, but it’s a super fun concept and I’d love to do that again.”

So how exactly did an established snow volleyball player like Hellvig find her way to Hawai’i? It’s all about the connections.

“A big [factor] was [assistant coach Angelica Ljungqvist],” Hellvig said. “She’s also from Sweden, and she spoke with me pretty early on when I was in high school. She came up to me and told me I could go [to Hawai’i]. I didn’t really know what college volleyball was like before that. It was just crazy to hear that.. Then I looked the team up and watched a few games on YouTube. I just saw this amazing crowd this amazing team, the coaches, like coach [Robyn Ah Mow]. I knew I had to come here. I had my doubts through the two years I had to consider the offer, but I knew I just couldn’t say no. It was impossible to say no to this opportunity. Coach Ange helped me come here and I’m very thankful for that.”

According to Hellvig, Ljungqvist was familiar with the family as she played beach volleyball in Sweden around the same time as Charlotte Hellvig, Hanna’s mother. Hanna herself didn’t know Ljungqvist prior to coming to UH though.

“She knew my parents, and that was pretty much our history before I came here,” Hellvig said. “I’ve gotten to know her now, and she’s an amazing person.”

Moving to a new country would be hard for anybody, much less someone who has to balance school with a busy athletic schedule. For Hellvig, having Ljungqvist has certainly helped with the process.

“It’s been very helpful,” Hellvig said of Ljungqvist’s presence. “I definitely settled in quickly thanks to her. She helped me with a lot of things. It’s nice to have someone to speak Swedish to, someone who can help me, because sometimes when you’re in trouble and you don’t know where to go, I know I can go to coach Ange.”

Hellvig has quickly found her place with the Wahine volleyball team. She was one of several true freshmen who surprisingly started the season in the starting lineup, opening the season alongside experienced Pac-12 transfer Jolie Rasmussen. Hellvig took it a step further though. After the team lost Rasmussen to an ankle injury, Hellvig stepped up to accept a new load of responsibilities. And she certainly delivered on those new expectations, passing Rasmussen to lead the team in kills through the first 11 games of the season with 127.

“I didn’t expect that when I first got here,” Hellvig said. “It’s just been about adjusting pretty quickly to this environment. It just clicked for me, how to be aggressive, how to take responsibility, which I’m kind of used to because I did that in high school too. Still, it feels amazing to step up a level and still be on the court. To be able to make that adjustment quickly, I think that’s the key.”

Her strong play has surged as of late. During the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Challenge, Hellvig broke out with her first two career double-doubles, while picking up a career high 17 kills and 17 digs against Utah Valley. Following the Challenge, she was named the tournament MVP.

“I’m very honored to be named the player of the tournament,” Hellvig said. “What I think is amazing though is that in each tournament we’ve had so far, there were different players who got MVP. It’s cool how diverse we are and how all the players contribute. I’m honored to be one of those players. I got a lot of calls and texts from family and friends, and from the fans too. It’s been so cool.”

While it’s clear that Hellvig has already established herself as a key player for the Wahine, her young career is just beginning. Hawai’i fans can look forward to cheering her on for years to come. And as she has already proven, she will deliver.