High school coaches are supposed to motivate, instruct and, of course, teach their players how to excel in their respective sports. But more importantly, they can give them the skills to be able to prosper on and off their field, court, or diamond.
For Hart girls volleyball coach Mary Irilian, coaching takes on more than just a job, it’s her family.
“Coaches can’t do it by themselves,” Irilian said. “It takes supportive parents and it takes coaches in my program, of course, the assistant coach is my husband. I’m blessed that I work with my family and get to show the girls that a working mom can still work hard and still achieve success. I think that’s important for girls to see too, so I enjoy having my family and my Hart volleyball family kind of be all in the same.”
Irilian’s dedication, pure passion and undeniable love to coach the sport of volleyball has culminated in her being winning the 2018-19 Signal Sports Coach of the Year Award.
Beginning her Hart coaching career in the 2006-07 season, Irilian has been at the helm of the girls volleyball team for the past 13 seasons, but admits that the program has had more recent success in the last couple of years, winning at least a share of the Foothill League title for back-to-back seasons.
“This next year will be my 14th season at Hart,” she said. “We won my first year in 2006 and I lost all seniors, so I had to rebuild. The next one was in 2014, 2017, 2018 so we have been more successful in the last five years than my entire 14 years there.”
One reason that the Indians have experienced recent success is due to a group of five seniors and their unwavering commitment and dedication to become better as individuals and more importantly as a team.
CJ Catabona, Zoe DiNardo, Shelby Grubbs, Noelle Blumel and 2018-19 All-SCV Player of the Year Kylie Mattson came together for one ultimate goal: to be undefeated Foothill League Champions.
“Being able to be a part of coaching them from freshman year and having them understand, buy into the program’s expectations and giving them the ability to kind of get it at the freshman level than as they grow and develop, they will become more successful,” Irilian said. “There was that end, the other aspect is that we have never been undefeated so they were also motivated on that sense to be the first seniors to change that path for us, so they were a very motivated group.”
Planning and accomplishing a goal are two different things entirely, but once this Indians team hit the court, the dream became closer to reality with every game.
The Indians won eight of their first 10 matches and went on an nine-match winning streak towards the end of the Foothill League schedule, which included another milestone for the girls volleyball program, beating Valencia at Valencia, and in sweeping fashion.
It was a win that brought tears to Irilian’s eyes.
“I was trying to hold it back. I think we were actually at game-point in the third game and I was starting to get choked up,” she said. “In my head I was like, ‘We are going to do this.’ Just trying to stay composed and once it was done I was literally jumping up and down with the girls. It was just an amazing feeling and I did get teary-eyed and they all saw that.
“I’m very much grateful for them for being the ones to finally do it. Considering they said they broke the curse going over to the Valencia gym. It was good for the younger girls in the program to be a part of it because they know it can be done and hopefully that continues moving forward.”
Never losing back-to-back matches throughout the year, the Indians were relentless in their pursuit for an undefeated Foothill League season.
Clinching the crown in a sweep of West Ranch at West Ranch in the second-to-last match of the regular season, Hart had just Saugus standing in the way of its perfect league season.
The Indians took care of business, sweeping the Centurions to capture their first undefeated Foothill League title, dropping just one game on the year.
“These were a great group of girls and it very much was a pleasure to coach them,” Irialian said. “Fortunately we were successful in the process. You want to always win, but you don’t really think about that completely at the end of the day because you want them to grow and improve in all aspects of life and that was just kind of the icing on the cake to be able to do that part of it.”
The Indians finished with an overall record of 23-6 and advanced into the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs. Defeating St. Paul 3-0 in the first round and Citrus Valley 3-1 in the second. Hart succumbed in the quarterfinals to Cypress in four games, concluding a historic and unforgettable ride for Irilian and girls volleyball team.
“I still love it. I’m a competitor at Hart and I went to Hart, so there’s a closer bond,” she said. “As long as I still love it and want to see the girls succeed, not just in volleyball, but give them hopefully some life skills they can move on with and understand disciplines and expectations for accountability, that makes it worth it for me. When they shine and feel good and build confidence from that and I can see that, to me that’s everything. That’s what keeps me coming back is hoping to continue pushing the younger girls to be confident and experience hard work.”