There is nothing unusual about a girl describing her best friend as "the nicest person ever." But when Potomac Falls standout volleyball player Emily Mims starts talking about her best friend, Heritage standout Lauren Mellott, the adjectives only start there.

Selfless. Mature. Energizing. Giving. Hard-working. Responsible. Smart.

"She really is just so genuine," Mims said. "Maybe that says it best."

Perhaps an even greater testament to Mellott is that she's described exactly the same way by Pride Coach Carmel Keilty and by Loudoun Valley Coach Laird Johnson, who got to know 17-year-old outside hitter as a member of the Northern Virginia Volleyball Association club program.

"You couldn't ask for a better kid," Johnson said.

On top of it all, she is a tremendous volleyball player who oozes leadership, court awareness and, despite her petite frame, power. In fact, the only trait that may have slowed Mellott on the court is the selflessness to which Mims referred. Two years ago, Mellott decided to forgo playing in a national tournament with Mizuno 16, her club team that also featured area standouts Mims, Blair Brown and Jen Todd of Loudoun Valley and Kathleen Crosby of Fauquier, to go to Vietnam on a youth mission with her church to help people in the local villages.

"She's just an awesome girl," Keilty said of Mellott, who helped the Pride to a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory over Stone Bridge on Monday that put Heritage alone in second place in the AA Dulles District, behind Loudoun Valley, the second-ranked team in the Washington area. "I think she has an inner strength to be the best she can possibly be in every area of her life, and it rubs off on those around her."

That's not to say things always have gone perfectly for Mellott -- certainly not on the high school volleyball scene, at least. She started her freshman season playing for a then-struggling Loudoun County program before moving to the newly opened Heritage as a sophomore. The Pride went 1-19 its inaugural season.

Heritage improved to 12-9 overall a year ago and finished 7-7 in the district. Now the Pride, whose only other senior is Heather Pressor, stands at 10-3 and 6-2 headed into tonight's showdown at Loudoun Valley (13-0, 8-0).

The Vikings have defeated the Pride twice this season (they met early in the Liberty-Fauquier Festival) by a combined 6-1.

"It has been frustrating at times here but also very rewarding," said Mellott, who has 85 kills, 110 service points and 92 digs on the season. "I know I've grown a lot from having been on this team. To come from club ball where we were so successful to a school that was just getting started . . . we've had so much talent but have also been so young and inexperienced. But Coach Keilty has put so much trust in me. She doesn't necessarily coach us when we're out on the court but expects me to do it out there, and that's been a challenge that I've loved."

And one Keilty said she never doubted Mellott could handle.

"I knew within the first week of coaching Lauren that she could handle the responsibility of leading this team on and off the court," Keilty said. "The girls on the team look up to her not only because she's a great athlete but because she does what's right. Her desire and her heart are really immeasurable.

"Kids like this don't come through your program every year. I know how special she is."

"I think she has an inner strength to be the best she can possibly be," said one coach of Heritage's Lauren Mellott. Senior Lauren Mellott has helped Heritage to a 10-3 start this season.