Defending 5A titlist focuses inward, like look of 2019 squad
West Valley Preps
On paper, Millennium appears to be a shell of its 5A state champion girls volleyball team, with six seniors from the 2018 team preparing to start their college careers and a seventh soon to play beach volleyball at the University of Arizona.
In person, however, the Tigers like what they have seen this offseason and summer.
This program is not big on predictions and coach Julie Vastine said she is not giving much thought to what other top 5A teams have coming back. Her main concern is maximizing Millennium’s 2019 team.
“I try not to get overwhelmed by the big picture and take it day by day. When we started last year, did I think we’d have a good shot at winning state? I totally did,” Vastine said. “But I didn’t look weeks or months ahead. As we took those steps we could re-evaluate. We’re in the same situation this year, not getting ahead of ourselves. It’s very overwhelming and I don’t want to be overconfident. It’s never handed to you. I think we have good pieces and these seniors get to display their determination.”
The senior leadership starts with sisters Hannah and Kylie Waters. Hannah rotated in frequently as the Tigers’ No. 2 setter last season, while Kylie was often the defensive specialist providing back row support to all state libero Nicole Hoff.
After biding her time among a crowded group of attackers, senior Kaylee LoPresto should have a bigger role at outside hitter or right side.
“Winning state was unreal. You can’t comprehend a state championship,” Hannah Waters said. “As seniors coming up we get to have that leadership. Those seniors are off now but we think we can win another state championship.”
Millennium could repeat without coming close to matching a magical 2018 season. The Tigers finished with a 45-1 record and a top 10 national ranking and Tour of Champions visit from MaxPreps — with the only loss coming at the Nike Tournament of Champions to fellow top 10 team Los Angeles Marymount.
While this team cannot replicate that amount of returning veteran talent, the Waters sisters said they learned from the approach of that senior class.
“Going in they were so determined. And I feel like coming in as seniors now we’re getting to be the same way. Confident, but still determined that we’re going to do something special,” Kylie Waters said.
Junior Jordan Miller is the top returning attacker, with 149 kills in 2018. She and LoPresto figure to get more chances in this season’s attack.
Vastine said returning junior defensive specialist Calli Johnson and sophomore setter Bianca Perez have the opportunity to earn spots in the rotation this year. Perez earned a varsity spot as a freshman, but missed most of the season with an injury.
The coach said she let the team rest most of the summer. After a break during the week of Independence Day, the Tigers practiced two days a week, coming in and lift, play in open gym and go over some game situations.
“I want them to be teenagers, and to rest and travel,” Vastine said.
Millennium took part in the University of Arizona team camp for the fourth straight year, from July 12-14 in Tucson. It is one of several camps led by Wildcats coach Dave Rubio.
Vastine said the camp is the girls volleyball equivalent of a preseason baseball tournament. Several top Arizona high schools are there and tinkers with different lineups, rotations and roles for players.
Kylie Waters said she enjoys working with Wildcats assistant coach Greg Whitis during these camps.
“It’s always fun bonding with the team. We all go to dinner together and stay at the same hotel. We have freshmen and transfers coming in so it’s fun to get to know them,” Hannah Waters said.
Several newcomers could figure into the mix this fall, particularly at middle blocker following the graduation of Sedona Sherman and Rylee Johnson.
Vastine said junior middle blocker/outside hitter Olivia Flanagan transferred from nearby Avondale Agua Fria.
Middle blocker was an area of concern until the Tigers received a pair of transfers from a military family this summer, Vastine said. Amberly and Annabella Blowers are juniors who shined at Biloxi (Miss.) High School last year.
Kylie Waters said incoming freshman Eryn Jones stood out during the offseason. A good portion of the varsity will take their cues from their seniors.
“We’re keeping ourselves accountable so everyone else follows,” Kylie Waters said.
Vastine said the school’s first state girls volleyball championship did not make a drastic difference in the number of players showing interest in the program.
Once again, she will be faced with some difficult decisions in filling out the varsity and JV rosters.
“We probably average 60 kids coming all summer, and they all know we’re only going to keep 36 to 40 kids. Unfortunately we have to cut kids, and those kids could play most other places,” Vastine said.
Entering her sixth season as the Millennium head coach, Vastine said this summer has been enjoyable and this group has — at least to this point — been remarkably low maintenance.
“They’re disciplined, they work hard and have fun. They enjoy being here and that’s the best part. My job is to create opportunities that they can learn the game and make decisions on their own. They step up to the plate and take responsibility. They’re really easy to coach,” she said.