Of all the positions on the volleyball court, setter is in the running for the least flashy of them all.
Despite this, Syracuse senior setter Hailee Garcia has never had a problem making her performances stand out.
“Several times throughout the season my assistants and I would just look at each other and say, ‘How did she make that play?’” Syracuse head coach Corrie Vigil said of Garcia.
In both difficult and routine situations, Garcia has always managed to get the ball right where it needs to be.
“She’s just unbelievable,” Vigil said. “She knows her hitters, she reads really well and she’s always able to put up a good ball for that particular hitter so we can score. She just elevates everyone around her.”
Numbers back up Vigil’s statements, to say the least. Garcia finished her four-year high school volleyball tenure with a UHSAA state record 3,311 career assists, making her just the second player ever to clear the 3,000-assist threshold.
With her name already in the record books, Garcia can now add 2021 Deseret News Ms. Volleyball to her resume — which has been a source of great satisfaction for both Vigil and Garcia.
“Honestly, I’m in shock,” Garcia said. “It’s incredible to know how much work I’ve put in my entire life — literally my blood, sweat and tears have been put into this sport, and to be able to be recognized like this is insane.”
While developing as a volleyball player, Garcia always looked up to past Ms. Volleyball players to be just like them, but never expected that she would be one herself.
Vigil — who said Garcia will go down as the best setter to ever play at Syracuse — wasn’t quite as shocked as Garcia was about the award, but was still pleasantly surprised when she discovered that her setter would be receiving the statewide recognition.
“It’s just so deserving,” Vigil said. “You typically don’t see setters getting that recognition, but it’s nice to know that other people saw that in her.”
“That kid has worked so hard and contributed (to Syracuse volleyball) significantly. She’s just a great athlete and an even better kid.”
Early on in her competitive volleyball career, even Garcia herself didn’t give the setter position much recognition.
When she was 12 years old, her club coach, Mondo Begay, approached Garcia and told her he wanted her to play setter. Garcia, who was an undersized outside hitter at the time, was unsure of the position switch.
After talking it over with her parents, Garcia made the decision to become a setter and began training with Begay.
Garcia said the transition was rough early on. She often found herself frustrated and discouraged with her inability to play the setter position at the level she wanted to be at.
But it was during those frustrating moments that Garcia learned habits that she still carries with her today.
“(Begay) is such an amazing coach,” Garcia said. “He kept me super disciplined and that discipline has stuck with me throughout the years. But I just kept doing my reps and I continued to get better.”
Garcia went on to say that without Begay and all her teammates, she would not be playing at the level she is today.
Not only did the struggle teach her to become an elite-level volleyball player, but Garcia said it also taught her to be a leader on and off the court — something that Vigil said is one of the senior’s greatest strengths.
That leadership was needed this season for a Titans squad that had to replace a large number of graduating seniors, but still finished in third place at this year’s 6A state tournament.
“At the beginning of the season, us captains — Mia Thompson and Andie Thomas — we came together and determined we needed to get the team as tight as we can,” Garcia said. “We came together more than anything this year. Getting third place has nothing to do with our talent and skill, but the togetherness we had.”
With her historic high school career now over, Garcia — a Saint Mary’s signee — now hopes her leadership and discipline will translate at the Division I level. Based on how she played in 2021 and the three years before that, it’s probably safe to assume that they will.
“Part of me is sad that literally the last four years of my life are ending, but I am so stoked to start this next four years,” Garcia said.