Sammy Miller is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Highland High School athletics.
In football, the quarterback is the leader on the field. In basketball, the point guard holds the leadership. But in the game of volleyball, the pressure of leading the team resides in the setter’s hands.
Highland volleyball junior setter Maya Bhakta embraces the challenge of having to lead her team to victory one set at a time while always remaining true to herself.
“She is just a really kind person on and off the court,” Highland head coach Tait Neilson said. “I know all of the girls love her on our team. Maya is so nice to everyone, and I think that helps because her teammates know that they can trust her and know that she has their best interests at heart.”
Bhakta started her volleyball journey at age 12, in big thanks to her older sister, Samia, who encouraged her to play the same sport that she had fallen in love with.
Samia is a Highland alumnus who is currently a freshman playing volleyball at California State University, Bakersfield.
“My sister inspires me every single day,” Bhakta said. “She is so hard-working, supportive, kind to everyone that she meets, and has helped me so much in my career.”
Bhakta is extremely grateful that she has a sister to help her not only with volleyball fundamentals but life skills and feels the responsibility to hold that same role for underclassmen in the program.
She makes it a goal to have every person feel welcomed and a part of one big family, which is a huge reason why the Hawks have found success this season.
“Maya is so positive, even if we were to mess up or do something bad, she is always there for us and cheers us on,” senior libero Bentley Hunt said. “She does a great job of picking the team up when we are down, and even if she has a bad day at school, she just forgets about it and puts the team first.”
As a setter, Bhakta’s job is to run the offense and recognize which offensive schemes to execute at the right times. She currently leads the team with 586 assists, averaging over seven assists per set, which is one of the best averages so far in the conference.
In sports, though, talent can only take a player so far. A player’s mindset and attitude are a major component to their success, and for Bhakta, her mentality on the court separates her from others.
“I try to not stress about the things on the court, because the game wouldn't be as much fun if I was stressed out and thinking too much,” Bhakta said. “I just leave all of the pressure and worries out of my mind and focus on doing my job.”
Neilson expressed how Bhakta is the rock for this team and is someone that embodies what it means to be a true leader without being the loudest player on the court.
“We call her our Silent Assassin,” Neilson said. “She's not very loud, she just does her job and does it to the best of her ability, and when the games get tight or we are in big situations, she's never frazzled, and her body language never changes. Maya is always the most consistent player on the court and leads us to success.”
Being an athlete is not easy. There are a lot of early mornings and late nights in order to be the best that they can be. For Bhakta, she embraces the process, and even when there are times that giving up would be the easy way out, she never takes this route. Instead, she pushes herself harder and reminds herself of the love that she has for the game.
“The thing that keeps me going is all the energy and the fun that the game brings,” Bhakta said. “The feeling when you set a good ball to your teammate and they get a huge kill, it’s just such a great feeling and a big adrenaline rush too.”
Bhakta has no intention of finishing her volleyball career anytime soon.
She hopes to follow in her sister’s footsteps and play the game that she loves most at the next level while attending medical school as well.
“Helping people out is the best feeling in the world,” Bhakta said. “That is why I want to go into the medical field, so I can help people in any way that I can, and I think that by me wanting to help people translates to volleyball too.
“In a way, I am helping my teammates by being there for them and setting them up for success in games.”