Hickory Ridge setter sees hard work pay off

Hannah Harper knows that to accomplish her goals, she has to put in the work first.

The senior, a four-year varsity volleyball player at Hickory Ridge, didn't earn her starting setter spot overnight.

"I had to go from being a cheerleader on the bench to playing all the way around all the time," said Harper. "I worked hard to show coach I really wanted it."

Hickory Ridge coach Patti Chason said Harper's dedication to improving on the court has made her into the player and leader she is today.

"She has seen what hard work can do," said Chason. "So she holds the rest of our girls to a higher standard, pushes them to play harder than you see at the high school level."

Harper leads the Ragin' Bulls in assists, with 408 heading into this week, runs the team's offense and takes responsibility for her team.

"If something happens, I feel like I'm in charge of fixing it," she said.

Chason said Harper took her team captain role to heart and has focused on being more vocal to motivate her teammates. The 17-year-old's leadership goes well with her position on the court.

"She's there to push the girls," said Chason, comparing Harper's setter role to that of a quarterback on the football field. "She has to be demanding. She has to have the pass in order to run the offense."

Harper saw little playing time her freshman and sophomore years, playing behind older setters as Chason groomed her for the future. Last year, Harper began to see her court time go up, but she didn't start full time until this season.

"This year she grabbed the reins from the get-go," said Chason.

Harper's work doesn't stop when she steps off the Hickory Ridge volleyball court.

Besides playing club volleyball year-round, she's also a black belt in taekwondo and an equestrian, competing with her horse, Jack, in the spring and summer. Harper also is Hickory Ridge's senior class president.

Harper said she's developed good time management with her busy schedule. She also admitted she's learned perseverance and patience in her activities outside of volleyball.

But her focus in the next few weeks will be to lead her Ragin' Bulls to another South Piedmont Conference championship.

Harper and Hickory Ridge got off to a strong start this season with an 19-6 record, including 12-0 in conference play heading into the Oct. 11 game at Concord.

Harper said a key factor for the team's success has been the good chemistry among its players.

"We're always picking each other up," she said. "That's helping us this year."

Besides Harper, libero Haley Denny, middle hitter Bethany Laden and outside hitter Becca Lukasik have also stood out for the Ragin' Bulls.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, Hickory Ridge still had hopes of being the first team in school history to go undefeated in the conference.

The Ragin' Bulls have also played a loaded nonconference schedule, facing perennial 4A state powers Ardrey Kell and Providence.

"I wanted some competition out of our conference to improve our skills," said Chason.

She said that's paying off for her team. Chason and Hickory Ridge hope that experience will help them achieve their goal of getting past the third round of the 3A state playoffs for the first time in program history.

The Ragin' Bulls and the rest of the SPC will play in the conference tournament starting Oct. 17. The Bulls, who have a two-game lead over second-place Cox Mill, hope to earn the tournament title as well as a No. 1 seed in the postseason. First-round games will be at the higher seed's home, while the semifinals and finals will be at Cox Mill High School Oct. 18 and 19.

Chason knows it will be a challenge.

"On any given day, we have a big X on our backs," said Chason. "Everybody's going to bring their A-games trying to get us."