A team wants an intelligent player as its point guard in girls' basketball.
Ava Soleimany definitely fills that bill for Sage Hill School.
Off the court, she has a 5.0 weighted grade-point average this year. She said she's taking Advanced Placement classes in physics and U.S. History, multivariable calculus, plus accelerated (honors) classes in English, biology and Latin.
It's not exactly rocket science to Coach Lou Silverman why Soleimany is so valuable on the court, though. The junior point guard shows the same kind of mental fortitude during games.
"She does not make mental mistakes, and that's a remarkable part of her game," Silverman said. "She figures out a way to maintain focus on the task. A bad shot, or a bad call, or a bad bounce doesn't get her down. That focus, that intensity is a constant, and it lifts everybody else up."
At 14.9 points per game, Soleimany is the leading scorer for the Lightning, who play host to rival St. Margaret's Friday night. She is not afraid of the pressure situations.
Even as a freshman, she was a starter on a senior-dominated team that won a share of the Academy League title.
Things changed last year. The 2009 Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year, Tierney Danner, had graduated. So had other senior leaders like Morgan Hembarsky and Stephanie Garrison.
Soleimany went from a background role to the spotlight, scoring a team-best 10.9 points per game and earning first-team All-Academy League honors. She led the team to a third-place finish.
"It was kind of a rebuilding for our team," she said. "We kind of had to create a new identity, I guess, as a team. This year has been building off of that, and trying to get the younger players prepared for the future as well."
It's spoken like a team captain, a role Soleimany shares with senior Sarah Derheim. But Derheim has missed games lately with a shoulder injury, leaving the Lightning even younger.
Silverman has been starting two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. Zoe Kreitenberg is the other junior, but she's more known as a volleyball player. One of the sophomores is Maggie Danner, Tierney's younger sister, who also plays volleyball and has also stepped up her play lately.
Soleimany's other sport for the Lightning is tennis. Playing at No. 3 doubles with Olivia Simon, she was a key component of the Lightning team that advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III title match in November.
Soleimany has served up some good basketball games lately as well.
"Basketball has always been my passion, among all the sports I've played," she said. "I love every part of it — the tempo, the intensity, the playmaking. The feeling you get when you make a great play, make a great pass, is just indescribable."
She scored a career-high 25 points against Archer of Los Angeles on Dec. 29, and 24 points in a win over Connelly of Anaheim the next week. She said she's proud that the Lightning have bounced back from a blowout loss to Whitney in their league opener. They've won two straight league games since, including an overtime victory at Oxford Academy on Tuesday.
It benefits the Lightning to have the ball in Soleimany at the point in close games, as she's made 53 of 62 free throws (85%). She played on the Newport Lightning club team over the summer, and partially credits that for her more aggressive play this year.
"She's going to the basket more," Silverman said. "If it's a close game, we want the ball in her hands and to force the other team to foul us. She'll make them pay."
But Soleimany also knows it's a team effort.
"With Sarah hurt, everyone has to do a little bit more," she said. "I'm really proud of Zoe and Maggie, and the way our whole team is playing as well. Alaina [Collazo], our freshman, has done a great job filling in Sarah's starting role. Shelby [Bolen], our other starter, is always solid defensively and on the boards. We're getting good contributions."
Soleimany contributes plenty to the school, as a peer tutor and student ambassador. She's also one of just 11 students on the Sage Hill honor committee, which she said is set up to help preserve the school's academic integrity.
"We're there as a support system for the students," Soleimany said. "If they get in trouble or do something wrong, we're there to help them, so it's just not a distant administrator judging the student. We're their peers, their friends, their classmates. We want to help make the school the best environment it can be, in terms of living well, living honorably. I think that's really key to creating the atmosphere we have at Sage."
Her less-experienced teammates know Soleimany is also there to help them on the court.
After all, she seems to succeed whenever she puts her mind to something.
Born: May 11, 1994
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Lou Silverman
Favorite food: In-N-Out burger with double meat and no onions.
Favorite movie: "Avatar"
Favorite athletic moment: When Soleimany and partner Olivia Simon, the Sage Hill girls' tennis No. 3 doubles team, beat West Ranch of Valencia's No. 1 team. It helped the Lightning earn an upset 10-8 win in a CIF Southern Section Division III semifinal match Nov. 18; West Ranch was the top seed.
Week in review: Scored 65 points in four games, including 16 as the Lightning got their first Academy League win, 41-29, over Crean Lutheran on Jan. 7.