It takes a special high school student to lead peers on and off the field, and despite entering the season on different ends of the spectrum, Pikes Peak perennial volleyball powers St. Mary's and Colorado Springs School boast strong, confident leaders.
St. Mary's enters the season coming off a 26-2 campaign that saw the Pirates march to the 3A state semifinals before bowing out to eventual state champion Valley. However, not only did St. Mary's lose their chance at winning a state title, they also lost six talented seniors who were influential leaders.
Fourteen-year coach Melissa Sweeney knows it will be a tough act for this year's Pirates to follow, yet she is confident that her three seniors - Hannah Faber, Mollie Schreck and Jessica Spilman - are going to set a good example after St. Mary's decided to start the season without naming captains.
"Those three kiddos aren't that real abrasive," Sweeney said. "They lead by example. They lead by (being) gentle giants. They are more of that nurturing type."
It was a no-brainer for the seniors to step up, said Faber.
"(Coach) just kind of asked us to take on the role without being announced as captains," Faber said, "and we just took it on ourselves as seniors to take care of the freshmen, sophomores and juniors."
On the flipside, CSS looks poised for a deep postseason run after a 20-5 season that witnessed the young Kodiaks - with the help of Maddy Mason, Maddee Morley and Kendra Baucom - push their way to the regional finals, losing to 2A state champion Lutheran.
The three were selected as captains for 2013 following a team vote and final decision by seven-year coach Kyong Lee and assistant Jim Morley.
"At the 2A level, we have to bring young girls up and that's what we expect our captains to do," Morley said. "These guys do that great. They just treat them terrific."
Mason served as a captain as a junior and admits it was a learning experience. She is excited to be joined by her two fellow classmates this season.
"This is a great team to lead," the outside hitter said. "I know my duties this year and it's going to be different with having two different girls to kind of talk to about everything, but I like having two people to be like, 'Hey should I do this? Or would this work?'"
Helping Mason will be the Kodiaks setter, Morley.
"Being the only setter, I already have a huge leadership responsibility," Morley said. "I have always been that person that is like 'Ok guys, we need to get this pass. Come on.'
"I have been doing that ever since I was 14 years old."
To help the Pirates build team chemistry and leadership skills, Sweeney has intertwined team-building activities such as players tying teammates' shoes and racing other groups. The Pirates also use different colored markers to write about their effort in practice on a poster in the gym.
Spilman, a four-year letterman, is planning on helping instill a similar confidence in the Pirates' four freshmen who are expected to start. Spilman said that upholding the St. Mary's tradition comes with the territory of being a senior.
"Being a senior you have to step up and take on that leadership," the defensive specialist said. "You have to show the underclassmen, like, you have to hustle and you have to do stuff."
CSS' Baucom has been a basketball and softball captain.
"The (underclassmen) look up to us a lot at this level because it's more of a family," Baucom said. "There's not like 10 million girls on the team, so they look up to the way we act."
St. Mary's returning players, as well as the freshmen, have already made it clear they plan on upholding the winning tradition.
"This year they came in and I asked them if they wanted to be successful, and they were like, 'Why wouldn't we?'" Sweeney said.
And there is no question about what CSS plans on achieving.
Said the three Kodiak captains in confident unison: "Make it to state."