Horizon Honors girls volleyball coach Livia Peace Pratt loves that fact that the Eagles are a selfless team.
The team won 14 of its first 18 matches partly because of the players' attitudes. They are putting wins ahead of stats, harmony before playing time, and chemistry before comfort.
But Peace Pratt can't help but wonder how good the team would be if so many players weren't contributing out of position.
"There is not a selfish bone on this team," she said. "We have several players who have changed positions. They don't care right now and they are still playing at a high level. They are winning, and that's helped with chemistry."
The Eagles entered this week 8-0 in power rankings matches and 5-0 in Division IV, Section II matches. As of Tuesday they were No. 6 overall and No. 3 in their section.
Horizon Honors has steadily improved under Peace Pratt, who is in her fifth season, and she is seeing a different quality out of this team.
"We are getting to a point where we are developing a program," said Peace Pratt, whose team made the Class 2A state semifinals in 2009. "They know that and they expect to win. I think in years past the team felt they should or could win. This senior class feels entitled to win.
"It is easier to do that if you know you are going to win before you step on the court."
The mentality has changed and developed behind the leadership of setter Hannah Brown, libero/outside hitter Valerie McPherran and senior blocker/hitter Hannah Laflin.
"We know we are expected to win now," McPherran said. "There have been matches where we have pulled them out because we never stopped believing. I am not sure we've had that kind of mentality before."
McPherran is an example of the team's selflessness. She is the team's best libero (defensive specialist), but when the Eagles struggled with consistency with their outside hitting, Peace Pratt changed her position.
"You have to put the team first or we won't be successful as a whole," she said. "If that is where I will help the team the most then that's where I need to be."
Other position changes came from a pair of talented sophomores as Madeline Moran and Diana Carlson both play setter for their club teams, but have moved to middle blocker and outside hitter, respectively.
It has helped the Eagles, who went 13-11 last year and lost to top seeded Thatcher in the postseason, play at a high-level that is reminiscent of the 2009 squad that made the semifinals before falling to rival Valley Christian.
"The biggest difference is the mentality of this team," Peace Pratt said. "They play with more confidence and they don't quit on anything. The team in '09 had seniors on it that still had memories of the years when they struggled, but every athlete on this year's team is used to going to the state tournament, and they fully expect to go again this year."
The difference might be the calming effect of Brown and McPherran,
"(Brown) is a quiet but necessary presence," Peace Pratt said. "The two people we have to have on the court are Val and Hannah."
Brown, who had an official visit at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., leads the team in aces (30) and assists (399), while McPherran is tops in digs (360) and second in aces (29), but shape the team with their leadership.
"They keep us focused and ready," said Laflin, who leads the team in kills (141). "When we step on the court we know we can count on each other and we don't want to let anyone down."
The Eagles showed they could play with anyone their size early in the year when they won the Silver Bracket at a Notre Dame tournament and then finished third at the North Canyon Rattler roundup.
The schedule gets tougher over the next few weeks with matches against Division V's Veritas Prep, Chandler Prep (twice) and the season finale against Tempe Prep on Oct. 27.
Peace Pratt has a good feeling that the rest of the year will be just as successful, especially if they show like they did against Valley Christian in a five-set win on Sept. 22.
"I was pumped with the way we handled them," she said. "It's a matter of mental focus. They definitely showed up and wanted that match. They were there 100 percent and when we do that we are a different team."
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