Hart girls volleyball captains relish leadership role

Hart senior Megan Soto goes up for the kill in a Foothill League matchup with Saugus at Saugus High School earlier this season. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Just as there are six players on the court at a time, the Hart girls volleyball team has six words that have served as themes this season:

Confidence, persistence, discipline, unity, relentlessness and passion.

“In the beginning of the year, we wanted to be more mindset-focused because a lot of times teams forget that volleyball is 80% mental and 20% physical,” said senior Megan Soto. “So focusing on the mental side this year really helped us get together.”

Although the Indians are having similar success to last season when they were undefeated Foothill League champions, it’s a starkly different team in terms of leadership and approach to the game.

Last season, Hart had several players with extensive varsity experience on the court at any given time. This season, there are three captains who have become reliable presences on the court.

Soto, Ruby Duncan and Lina Elsee each have at least three varsity seasons to their names. Duncan said that the players’ belief in one another has helped her and Soto step into leadership roles.

“It builds your confidence knowing that your team believes in you and it gives you the ability to believe in yourself more,” she said. ‘It’s something that helps.”

Hart had plenty of drive headed into the Foothill League season and beat four straight opponents by four games or less. On Sept. 26, they met West Ranch, which also had an undefeated record at that time.

The Indians were able to gain a five-point lead in the second and third games, but it only slowed the suffocation of the hope for another undefeated league season. The Wildcats completed a sweep to hand Hart its first loss of league.

“I think it helped us,” Soto said. “Losing to West Ranch was a good lesson that we can’t come into a game a bit hands-off. We have to be like, full force, all in from the beginning and that’s what we lacked in that game. We just didn’t come in with the proper mindset to go in and kill.”

On Thursday, Hart faces another tough opponent in Valencia. Last season, the Indians beat the Vikings for the first time in Valencia’s gym and earlier this season, Hart came out with a 3-1 win at home.

“That’s still a big one for us,” said Hart coach Mary Irilian. “I’m hoping that kind of momentum train that we’re on like, let’s get there and let’s do it like we know we can do it. But of course any home team has their intensity coming in, so we just have to rise above that.”

Six players will take the court with six words on their minds against Valencia and every team after that. It’s a social contract that they agreed to at the start of the season and are occasionally reminded of by their coaches.

“Hard work, relentlessness,” Duncan said of mindset for Valencia. “No passive plays. We’ve been working on a lot of like, relentlessness and getting the ball up on defense and putting the ball away and playing smart. Just aggressiveness in everything we do.”

Hart will be at Valencia on Thursday at 5:15 p.m.

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