By Dom Nicastro
As the saying goes, Mikayla Niles bleeds Saugus High School red and white. She was a standout three-sport athlete for the Sachems, part of the highly successful basketball program under Mark Schruender. Last year, she served as head coach of the junior varsity girls volleyball team and takes over this year as head coach of the varsity team.
And there is a lot of reason for optimism as Niles takes her team into action for its first match Wednesday, Sept. 6, on the road at Marblehead. It travels to Salem Tuesday, Sept. 12, for a 5:45 p.m. matchup then opens up the home schedule Thursday, Sept. 14 against Beverly (5:30 p.m.). From record turnouts to the rise of promising stars, the narrative for this team weaves a tale of passion, dedication and the relentless pursuit of excellence.
As we dive into the takeaways from an interview with Niles, we uncover the layers of commitment, growth and ambition that define the Saugus volleyball team. For starters, the volleyball program at Saugus is experiencing a resurgence in interest. This year marked a significant milestone with an unprecedented number of girls in recent memory trying out for the team. The increased participation is a testament to the growing enthusiasm and passion for the sport within the school community. Niles had nearly 60 try out, and it was the first year that the program had to make cuts.
Volleyball’s rising popularity at Saugus High is evident not just in the numbers but in the overall energy and commitment of the players. Coach Niles recognizes this momentum and aspires to expand the program further. She envisions organizing camps and other initiatives to engage younger students, ensuring the sport’s continued growth in the coming years. “The program’s getting stronger and stronger and more people interested,” Niles said. “I definitely want to branch off do some camps and stuff like that for younger kids. It’s starting to become popular.”
Coach Niles has a deep-rooted connection with Saugus High School, having been a former student and athlete herself. Transitioning from a player to a coach has allowed her to relive cherished memories and give back to the community that supported her during her formative years. Her close age to the players fosters a unique bond, blending the roles of a mentor and a friend. She graduated in 2016.
“You know, you just kind of get to relive those memories from high school,” Niles said. “… It’s just a good feeling to give back to your community after all that they’ve done for you throughout the years.”
The team boasts a mix of seasoned seniors (about 10) and promising newcomers. It has about five underclassmen. Seniors Ava Rogers (returning captain), Ashleigh Moore and Ana Silva serve as captains. The team’s leadership structure is a blend of coaching decisions and team input.
Rogers, a senior, and Ava Freethy, a freshman, are showing some early-season prowess thus far. Their dedication and skillset are second to none, and Coach Niles anticipates bright futures for them in the sport. “I definitely see Ava Rogers having the potential to go really, really far in the sport,” said Niles, who serves as a US Post Office letter carrier for her day job. “I mean, all my girls have so many strong suits to them. Ava’s one who I definitely see has a drive and the heart for the sport. Ava Freethy … she’s going to be such a good dynamite all-star player for Saugus.”
The team boasts several other standout players, each bringing unique strengths to the court. Among them, Aly Mabee, a sophomore, stands out as a hustler and a key setter for the team. Her agility and determination make her a vital asset. “Aly is my setter, and she’s got that hustle and athleticism and determination to her,” Niles said. “She’s all over the court. She’s just a hustler; everyone has one on their team.”
Ultimately, Saugus wants to get into the postseason, a feat the program has never achieved, according to Niles. This ambition serves as a significant motivator for the team. “We have never made it to the tournament since the program started, so that’s something we’re really trying to focus on,” Niles said. “They really have the drive to be the first ones to do it.”