Her coach says she “celebrates bigger than big.” Kyle Hartman’s play of late has been bigger than big, too.

One of the Desert Vista girls volleyball team’s most consistently clutch players this season, Hartman’s leadership on the court at the middle blocker position has been critical to the Thunder’s 33-4 record and top-five state ranking so far this season.

But according to head coach Molly West, Hartman’s non-stop penchant for riling up her teammates out on the court could be one of the Thunder’s greatest assets itself this season.

“She’s always got a smile on her face, and that’s important,” West said. “She’s keeping everybody up all the time. She’s the one kid out there that celebrates every point … that celebrates bigger than big.”

Added Hartman, a Thunder senior co-captain this season: “Every point really matters. You need to be excited for every point, because that’s what’s going to start the momentum for the rest of the game. I really like getting excited. It shows I’m having fun.”

And a lot of fun she’s had over the past four seasons with the DV volleyball program, including helping the Thunder reach the championship match of the Class 5A-I state tournament last season.

Looking back at her four years with the program, Hartman hardly sees the same girl that stepped into the gym for the first time in August 2006.

“Boy did I grow up through this program,” said Hartman, who plans to study some sort of science – possibly focusing on physical therapy – at the University of Central Arkansas, where she’ll play volleyball come next fall.

West said her pupil always had the potential be the next in a long line of great Desert Vista players over the years, adding that it was just a matter of Hartman growing into her own abilities.

“Part of it was having her mature, and coming in as a middle, that’s a really tough position to learn and develop at,” West said, acknowledging that often, the middle blocker position is one of the game’s most underrated – but definitely not undervalued – positions.

“It really depends on the coach and their philosophy on how they utilize that (position),” West explained. “Kyle does a lot of things she doesn’t necessarily get credit for. She and I have had these conversations where she’s frustrated because her stats haven’t necessarily reflected how hard she’s working and everything she does.

“But she’s really matured over the years and has taken on more responsibility, and this year is her year,” West added. “She’s got the stats, the presence, and certainly leads this team and gets it done.”

Hartman said she owes a lot of her growth as an athlete, a student, and, collectively, a student-athlete to her coach.

“I feel like a totally different person,” said Hartman. “I mean, I can only say that a lot of what has helped me through everything is Molly. She’s been like a second mom. She’s taught me a lot. I owe her a lot.”

West said that Hartman’s ascent to becoming a co-captain, along with outside hitter Betsi Metter, is proof of the respect every member of the Thunder program has of their senior teammates.

“We pick them toward the end of preseason, and I let the kids vote because it means more when their peers select them. And it was unanimous,” West said.

West reiterated Hartman’s drive to improve year after year, along with her work ethic, as a reason for earning her teammates respect.

This season, that hard work started well before the teams first hit the court in August, but rather with summer workouts – including one of Hartman’s favorite training activities.

“Farmboy workouts – maybe once a summer, twice a summer. It’s my favorite,” she said, adding that the workouts take place outdoors and are pretty much exactly what they sound like – including flipping tractor tires, working with sledge hammers and working on mobility in the sand.

“It’s a great way to work with your team, and bond with them outside. It’s hot out, we get to get sweaty. It’s a lot of fun,” Hartman said.

“I think when summer started I finally started to feel that leadership. That’s when we finally realized it was our team,” she added.

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