Prep volleyball: Senior takes freshman hitter under her wing
The East High volleyball team is wrapping up practice on the eve of a Region 6 showdown with Bountiful, yet its coach is nowhere to be found.
Lindsey Hazelwood, who is in her sixth year at the helm, looks on from the sideline, taking a break from coaching her team for the last 20 minutes of practice to speak with a reporter. Her team doesn't miss a beat.
Assistant coaches step in, but it mainly it is East's four seniors leading the closing drill.
"These seniors really make my job easier," Hazelwood said. "It's almost like having four more coaches on the court."
Gui PelÃ¡ez, a four-year starter at outside hitter and one of only two players in Hazelwood's tenure to start as a freshman, stands on the referee stand, directing traffic and barking out orders.
She's doesn't like what she sees.
PelÃ¡ez blazes down the stepladder and positions herself across the net from freshman middle blocker Kiki Angilau, a three-sport athlete for the Leopards and the only other freshman to start for Hazelwood. PelÃ¡ez explains the proper technique, and play resumes.
PelÃ¡ez and Angilau, unquestionably the two most talented players to take the court for East in recent years, have formed a bond, a passing of the torch that they hope will translate into success not only this season but beyond.
"Gui has been a leader since the day I got here," Angilau said. "She's always making sure everyone knows what to do and where to be. She's been my mentor, and I've learned so much from her. She's always pushing me to get better."
East's last winning season came in 2005. The Leopards narrowly missed the playoffs a season ago, but PelÃ¡ez feels they're on the cusp of getting back into the state tournament.
She pushes Angilau in an attempt to raise the standard East volleyball is held to, acknowledging that a title is out of reach this season but very much a possibility down the road.
"By the time Kiki's a senior, I hope they're fighting for more than just getting there," PelÃ¡ez said. "I hope Kiki takes something from that. I didn't know anything as a freshman, but I've grown into a leader. I hope that will rub off on Kiki and she'll have the passion to do great things here."
PelÃ¡ez took a shine to Angilau early, in part because of her willingness to listen and learn. PelÃ¡ez gives up nearly 6 inches in height despite the four-year age gap. Earlier this season during a lull in practice, PelÃ¡ez jokingly mouthed off to Angilau and found herself in a trash can before she could turn around.
Of course, the physical disadvantage doesn't stop her from coaching Angilau hard. The Leopards end every practice and game with a huddle-breaking "family" cheer. PelÃ¡ez and Angilau, on opposite ends of their respective high-school volleyball careers, take the family mantra seriously.
"I'm her little-big sister, and she's my big-little sister," PelÃ¡ez said with a laugh.
East dropped four of its first six matches, but Hazelwood likes the balance of experience and youth she sees on her team. A similar senior-freshman mentorship has developed between senior setter Tori Hoogestraat and reserve freshman setter Necee Kapuwai.
"I would say this is one of the most cohesive teams I've had since I've been here," Hazelwood said. "I see a couple freshman mistakes every game, but everyone makes mistakes. As long as they're learning from them, I'm OK with a few missteps."
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