The Horizon High School girls volleyball team has had an incredible second season; it has only lost one match this year.
“This team has a good balance, and for volleyball, that’s important,” head volleyball coach Earnest Rittenhouse said. “We are a new school only in our second year, so there’s not tons and tons of players. But, we have players at all the positions, and that’s crucial.”
The Hawks did not have any seniors graduate last year. This year however, they have five — which has brought more experience and power onto the court during the games.
“They played together last year; now is their second year together,” Rittenhouse said. “They feel more comfortable together, so that’s probably paid off, too. … We have five seniors, and that’s helpful too. They hit the ball a little harder and set the ball a little better and get some more points per set. That translates into some wins.”
For senior, outside and defensive specialist Hannah Pridgeon, 17, the trust the girls on the team have in one another — on and off the court — has been an important aspect of their success, as well as the time most of them spent playing beach volleyball earlier this the year.
“That has helped us become a much stronger team,” she said. “We (also are) very encouraging — no matter the score. So even if we are having an off day, our energy never falls. … I think that our time on the beach has proved to be a successful tool for us (too). Last year, we had our first beach volleyball season, and most of our varsity team played. Beach has definitely improved our ball control, opening up more opportunities for our offense.”
Rittenhouse attributes the Hawks’ growth and improvement to how much the girls love the game.
“Because they enjoy playing the game, they play it a lot,” he said. “(And) because they play it a lot, they get better. And so bit by bit, day by day, week by week, it’s gradual, but they’ve gotten better and better.”
And that means better consistency, ball control and accuracy — all aspects that Rittenhouse has bolstered through practice.
“After 28 years (of coaching high-schoolers), you find some elements to the game and things you can do that stay interesting to them, because you have to mix in all the technical stuff and still make it interesting,” he said. “The girls have a purple target at practice. What I’m trying to do is teaching them to hit a certain area.”
For the girls, the team culture is based on chemistry and positivity — as well as determination.
“Our team has a very positive team culture,” Pridgeon said. “Everyone is very encouraging, and we all expect great things from one another. We all have great determination and will never give up on a play during games and even in practice. Our high motivation has allowed us to push each other to become better. Between this year and last, our team chemistry has grown. We have a lot of trust and positive communication, and always try to lift up anyone who is having an off day.”
Rittenhouse believes team culture also should provide an environment for the collective and not just for the individual players on the court.
“Culturally, we want girls that volleyball is important to them, and they want to play well not just for themselves but for their teammates,” he said. “I want them in the mindset that they expect to win, but they certainly aren’t afraid of a loss, so to speak. They are not tentative when it’s coming down to the last couple of points, and they may be more aware at the beginning of a game. (Rather) they are confident when the game is on the line.”
For senior and right side Hailey Cappleman, 17, culture means a strong bond.
"Our team has such a strong bond and we are all super close with one another," she said. "It's been like that since we all first met in open gyms in the beginning of last season. All us girls are so supportive and caring for one another."
Since its foundation, the team has been working on serving and passing — key technique elements necessary for an effective team.
“Serving and passing (are) a huge part of it, but then we try the new stuff that tend to score points for us,” Rittenhouse said.
The tradition before every game that helps the girls keep their calm before stepping onto the court is going out to eat.
“That helps us clear our heads from whatever happened at school that day and lets us bond beforehand,” Pridgeon said.
As the season continues, the team has high hopes to continue getting wins.
"I believe that moving forward we will hopefully continue to win, as we stay a strong and hardworking team," Cappleman said.
“We want to try and get to a point when we peak at the right time,” Rittenhouse said. “You want to keep on building, building, building — and then make a run at the end. Honestly, we are still in the building part of it … we are still building toward the peak. I don’t think we are there, and I think the girls see that there are elements that are getting sharper, but we still need improvement that we’ll see. … Hopefully, at the end of the year, they will be playing really (well) when those big games come, and they will prolong our season. That’s always fun to do.”