Hart girls’ volleyball stays in title hunt, takes down Saugus 

Saugus Outside hitter Leila Ballard (2) hits the ball over the net against Hart defenders Madi Maxwell (11) and Olive Moore (25) during Tuesday’s game at Hart High School. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Hart Indians girls’ volleyball remained in striking distance of its first Foothill League title in four years after taking down the visiting Saugus Centurions on Tuesday. 

The Indians took the nailbiter of a match in four sets, 27-25, 25-16, 24-26, 25-20.  

Hart was led by outside hitter Madison Maxwell, who tallied 29 kills along with a ton of digs.  

The match wasn’t as dramatic as the two teams’ first matchup at Saugus (26-5, 6-4), which ended in the fifth set, 18-16, in Hart’s favor, but Maxwell helped her team adjust and execute well. 

Hart senior Madison Maxwell (11) hits the ball over the net against Saugus setter Morgan Guardado (3) during Tuesday’s game. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“I think tonight we really focused on what we’ve been working on in practice,” Maxwell said. “Executing attack lines, our blocking and closing schemes and our relentless defense. They have some really great hitters as well as really good blocking. So, we worked on a lot of attacking lines and finding the right spots to hit so that we could obviously get more points and I think we came up pretty strong. We had a few little lows, but I think it feels like we were better about coming back out of them.” 

Saugus’ brightest star was libero Gabriella Cascione, whose 23-dig night pushed her to the very top of the school record book. Cascione is only a junior and is already the Saugus all-time career dig leader with 1,290 and counting.  

Saugus Libero Gabriella Cascione (1) dives for the ball during the second set of Tuesday’s game against Hart. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

The Centurions have been dealing with some injuries but head coach Zach Ambrose has been pleased with the girls stepping up into bigger roles. 

“We’re dealing with some significant injuries and illness, which has limited our ability to play the game we like,” Ambrose said in a phone interview. “We were less effective, but I like the girls that have stepped up and filled those roles. They’ve done a good job.” 

Both teams showed some inconsistencies at the end line and had numerous serves sail long or into the net.  

Saugus found its spark plug trailing by five midway through the third set. An ace from outside hitter Leila Ballard jump-started the Cents back into the set and eventually her own kill knotted up the score at 19-19. From there on neither team could pull away by more than a point at a time. The decisive third set swayed Saugus’ way after consecutive kills from Taylor Lane and Leah Taylor.  

Ballard again sparked her team with four straight points in the fourth set, after sending down three kills on top of registering a huge block on Maxwell. 

Saugus outside hitter Leila Ballard (2) serves the ball during Tuesday’s game against Hart. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Ballard finished the night with 18 kills while middle blocker Madison Andrews tallied seven kills and five blocks. 

Hart shook out of the dry spell and found some breathing room thanks to timely kills from Maiah Jiz and sophomore Olive Moore. The Indians sprinted for the finish line and ended the night off Maxwell’s 29th kill. 

Maxwell battled throughout the night and added the monster numbers fans have come to expect from the Long Beach State commit. Hart head coach Mary Irilian was pleased with yet another big night from her senior. 
“There were some long rallies and you can tell she was a little tired, but that’s to be expected,” Irilian said. “So, I thought she did really well considering that she takes the brunt of our offense. The longer the sets go, the harder that can be for her, so I thought she did a good job.” 

The home team’s biggest run came in the second set. The two teams were neck and neck before Hart caught fire on a 9-2 run and pulled away in the only lopsided game. 

Hart setter Morgan Dumlao moved the ball around well, while still playing aggressively. The setter tallied six kills and two aces on top of her 42 assists. Indians libero Alexis Holloway also posted a big day in the back row and added 30 digs. Maxwell was thrilled to see her setter attacking more than usual. 

Hart libero Alexis Holloway (99) serves the ball during the second set of Tuesday’s game against Saugus. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“We talked in film about having a lot more dumps because it catches a lot of teams off guard,” Maxwell said. “They always know we’re gonna go to certain people on our offense, so catching them off guard with dumping and then going back to those people really helps us spread it out.” 

The Indians now remain in Foothill League championship contention and will have their shot at the undefeated West Ranch next week. Hart knows it’ll take the whole village to best the Wildcats, after dropping their first match 3-1. 

“Considering West Ranch should be our toughest competition in our way, we have everything to gain and they have everything to lose, essentially as far as an undefeated record,” Irilian said. “So we want to come out of the gate in their gym and just be aggressive and do the best that we can. So who knows, but all I can do is ask my team to play their best and hopefully that will be in our favor.” 

Hart outside hitter Maiah Jiz (6) hits the ball against Saugus’ Katelyn Nelson (9) and Madison Andrews (5) during Tuesday’s game. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Both teams return to action on Thursday, when Hart heads to Castaic and Saugus returns home to host Golden Valley. Both matches are slated for 5:30 p.m. 

Hart heads to West Ranch, which will likely be a league-title-deciding bout, on Monday at 5:30 p.m. 

“I think we’re about to give it our all and put our heart on the court,” Maxwell said. “Every game we talk about leaving it all on the court and doing what Hart does, trusting each other that we can do it and I think if we really give it our all and play our game, we have a really good shot of winning.” 

Hart outside hitter Maiah Jiz (6) serves the ball during the second set of Tuesday’s game against Saugus. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus middle blocker Taylor Lane (14) puts a shot over the net during the second set against Hart defenders during Tuesday’s game. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

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