There is a unique dynamic on the Horizon High School volleyball roster.
The 12-person roster has an equal number of sophomores, juniors and seniors — four each. While the seniors only make up a third of the roster, Horizon Head Volleyball Coach Valorie McKenzie said they are a key part of the Huskies’ success.
In particular, three of the four seniors on roster bring a wealth of varsity experience to the team.
Outside hitter Tori Anderson is on varsity for her fourth year while middle blocker Karen Scanlon and libero Kat Yung each have three years of varsity experience.
“Those three girls are really just the key to keeping us working hard and working well together,” Coach McKenzie said in a Sept. 27 interview.
The fourth senior is right side hitter Briana Niziolek and she, has two years of varsity experience. Each senior ranks among the top in multiple statistical categories and each contribute both in offensive and defensive play.
With the help of the seniors, Horizon has made its way to a 22-11 overall record after losing to Phoenix Xavier Prep — the top team in the 6A rankings — in four games Tuesday night. The Huskies entered Tuesday at No. 9 in the 6A rankings for the regular season
The team took part in the NIKE Tournament of Champions Sept. 29-30, finishing with a 4-3 record in one of the nation’s top volleyball tourneys.
To help the team get to this point, Scanlon said she and her fellow captain Anderson try to lead the team with positive attitudes.
“That’s how we all respond well,” Scanlon said in a Sept. 27 interview. “If somebody makes a mistake and gets down on themselves, it’s our jobs to pick them up and do our best to get them out of that mindset they get into.”
This positive attitude is evident on the court. During the team’s 3–2 loss to Sandra Day O’Connor High School, many players were smiling and laughing on the court during various points in the match. The Huskies had a 2–0 lead heading into the third set but O’Connor started its comeback in the third and Horizon players started to get down on themselves.
“That’s when it’s our job to look at each other and be like OK, it’s time,” Anderson said during a Sept. 27 interview.
“During timeouts, after sets or after games, we can bring them all in, say ‘this is what we need to do,’ pick each other up, make eye contact at all times and make sure everyone has a good attitude.”
Scanlon believes the team is at its best when it is positive and has high energy.
“ We tend to be really positive when we’re really loud and supportive and that’s how we respond best,” Scanlon said.
In addition to being positive, Scanlon said her responsibility as a leader includes setting a good example.
This entails working hard in practice and showing the rest of the team what the end goal is in what they do.
Both Scanlon and Anderson agree there is good chemistry among the team both on and off the court.
“ We know each other so well,” Anderson said. “ That translates onto the court and we just play well together.”
Anderson said when the chemistry spills onto the court, it manifests itself in the way the Huskies communicate.
This doesn’t only include game-type communications, but it also encompasses talk to help boost each other up.
For example, Anderson said she likes to tell teammates inside jokes when she notices they are getting down. This in turns help loosen the other player up because they begin to smile and laugh.
Coach McKenzie said what impresses her the most is how coachable her team is, how they get along on and off the court and who they are as individuals.
“Their character and discipline is bar none,” she said. “I keep my teams really accountable. They are really accountable, responsible kids.”
There is still about a month left in the season before the state playoff getunderway. Last year, the Huskies made a first-round exit after falling in five sets to Desert Vista High School. This year, Horizon looks to move past that early tournament exit.
Both Scanlon and Anderson said they just want to the team to improve each day and not take any steps backward.Coach McKenzie echoes that goal and said she wants her team to reach it’s full potential.
“ When we have great mindsets, positivity and energy, we’re amazing,” Anderson said. “Our defense is good but we just need to keep that at all times. Have consistency throughout all of our match and I think we’ll do really well.”