Highland volleyball players put the team before themselves

For Highland volleyball, all 16 need to be locked in to be successful. It is the Hawks’ bench that is what separates them from its opponents.

Sammy Miller is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Highland High School athletics. 

Even though only six players are playing on the court at a time, it takes much more than those six to win a match. For Highland volleyball, all 16 need to be locked in to be successful.

It is the Hawks’ bench that is what separates them from its opponents. 

“We believe our bench unit is the best in the state,” Highland head coach Tait Neilson said. “Rewarding and celebrating others is a huge part of our program and a big component for our successes.”

Whether Highland is on the road or playing at home, the Hawks’ side of the court is always the loudest and most spirited. 

This culture is not built overnight, though. It takes months to develop the mentality of putting egos aside and focusing on what is best for the team. 

Neilson and his supporting staff have created acronyms that the team uses day in and day out in order to build the foundation of unity and togetherness. 

One that the team uses is ACES, which stands for attitude, communication, effort, and selflessness. 

“All of the words that make ACES, are all things we're trying to control on the court, and we want to make sure that we always have a good attitude, and communicate effectively especially in game-time decisions,” Neilson said. “We also check in with ourselves to see how our effort is, and how we are able to be selfless as well to make sure we are playing as one.” 

As coaches, they can try to implement the right mindset and identity that they want the team to have, but the execution comes down to the players. 

No matter if a player hasn’t seen the court all season, or a starter is getting a breather on the bench, every girl is always cheering on her teammates and keeping the excitement level up. 

“We all have a really good energy, our bench is always so positive and exciting,” senior libero Bentley Hunt said. “The people on the court and off the court just get so happy for everything that happens which really makes a difference.”

That difference has paid dividends for the Hawks in matches against teams like Desert Vista, where they were down two sets, but their bench brought them the much-needed energy and helped them take the next three and eventually the match. 

The players know how important it is to always keep the morale up, no matter how many points or sets that they are down. This also helps the mindset of these players individually because it eliminates the anxiety of having teammates get angry if someone makes a mistake. 

When a family atmosphere is established, the mental side of the game is elevated tremendously.  

“The biggest thing that we pride ourselves on is being there for our whole team no matter what,” sophomore outside hitter Zoe John said. “We always want to be able to keep really good energy on and off the court, and having that support system is so important, and I don't think people understand how much that contributes to success.”

As the Hawks approach the playoffs, its bench becomes even more essential to its success. Highland will be facing some of the toughest competitors in the state and will need all 16 players to be locked in from start to finish.  

Highland’s journey to a championship continues with its first round of playoffs against Boulder Creek on Nov. 2 at home. These two teams come into this game with similar levels and styles of play, so the bench and togetherness could be the deciding factor.  

“We know that we just have to trust the process and understand that we are going to go through a lot of ups and downs, but we just have to stick it out and keep putting in a lot of effort in order to reap the rewards,” Hunt said. 

“With how close this team is, I think the future is really bright.”

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