Millennium boys volleyball in 5A title mix after two years of taking lumps

The Millennium volleyball team reacts after winning a point against Deer Valley on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at Deer Valley High School in Glendale. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Unlike several of the school’s other programs, Millennium boys volleyball was not a 6A power — or at least a solid playoff team — moving to 5A and immediately zooming up the list of contenders.

Last season the Tigers ended with an under .500 record and a loss in a play-in game at Mesa Desert Ridge. But the 2018 team did not have a senior.

All grown up now, Millennium boys volleyball is — alongside baseball — looking to join girls volleyball, girls soccer and boys and girls basketball as 5A finals participants.

The Tigers are 11-1 and ranked No. 5 in 5A as of April 10.

“I’ve had about the same 10 guys for three years. We’ve taken our beatings for the first couple years and showed a lot of promise at times last year. We’re really starting to come into our own,” Millennium coach Shawn Brannick said.

More of this year’s team is old enough to shave, but the group still only has two seniors, Greg Hess and Adam Smith.

However, many Tigers made up for that experience that gap in the last couple years by joining the AZ Fear volleyball club.

“First and second year, we were thrown into the pit of 6A. It was very tough. We were a new team getting slaughtered. All the boys got together, went to club and worked very, very hard,” junior outside hitter Austin McKee said. “We’ve raised the limit on how well we work together.”

The Cougar Volleyball Invitational March 8-9 at Kellis High School in Glendale hinted this year would be different. Millennium went 4-1 in the tourney, knocking off Marana Mountain View (ranked No. 3 in 5A) and Mesa (No. 5 in 6A).

“I believed we were going to be a very good team. We meshed very well,” McKee said.

McKee and Smith are the hubs of the attack as outside hitters, and junior opposite Oskar Kozieja has come into his own this season.

Sophomore Nathan Avitia distributes to these weapons and tries to spread the ball around. With 152 kills thus far, McKee is still option A.

“Austin definitely is our go-to when we come to the end of matches but I think we do a really good job of spreading out the ball. Through the season our three pins aren’t anywhere farther than 20 to 30 kills apart. Oskar and Adam also do a great job spreading the offense out,” Brannick said.

McKee said Kozieja is more emphatic as a finisher this year and his presence makes the attack less predictable.

“It’s really nice having the big guys up front. We just know they’re going to put it down and to a good spot,” Avitia said.

This season, the Tigers receive more help in the attack from junior middle blockers Hayden Coday and Miles Duncan.

Duncan leads the squad in blocks with 51 and adds 55 kills. Coday is a fourth offensive option with 97 kills and has chipped in 47 blocks.

“Everyone’s improved a lot, looking from freshman year,” McKee said ”But I definitely want to give a shout out to our middles. I know that they’re definitely overlooked but they’ve come a long way. They close blocks for us now and get good swings.”

Avitia and Mckee aid junior libero Mason Galindo defensively.

Sophomore ouside hitter/libero Bernard Conrique and sophomore outside hitter Gabriel Garcia have matured enough to provide options off the bench, Brannick said.

“Our middles continue to do a phenomenal job, being able to close and being more and more a part of the offense as the season progresses — Hayden Coday and Miles Duncan, Gabe Garcia and Bernard Conrique do a great job and we need them in relief,” Brannick said.

Smith and Hess provide a steadying presence for the sophomores and juniors.

“Adam and Greg do a great deal of leading. Greg’s a bench player but they both have really stepped up since sophomore year,” Brannick said. “Our setter Nathan might not be the most talkative guy but he does an excellent job of leading by example. My libero Mason (Galindo) is kind of our sparkplug. He’s our loud guy.”

Between the Kellis and Brophy invitationals and a regular season victory in front of a loud Skyhawks crowd, the Tigers are battle ready.

At Brophy April 5-6, Millennium knocked off Boulder Creek and Chandler Hamilton, while losing to Chandler, Gilbert Highland and Mesa.

None of those matches had the turbo-charged atmosphere at Deer Valley — or came against a 5A team that might block their playoff path.

The Tigers closed out the final two edge-of-the-seat games to win 25-16, 18-25, 25-22, 27-25.

“It’s going to help a big amount. All the games in the playoffs are going to be tight like this. To pull this one through is going to bring our confidence up and make us 10 times better,” Avitia said.

Millennium will need the confidence, since the 5A field appears deeper than ever before. Five Tucson teams — Cienega, Mountain View, Pueblo, Rincon and Salpointe Catholic — are near the top.

East Valley powers ALA-Queen Creek, Gilbert Campo Verde, Queen Creek Casteel and Gilbert are gunning for top spots. Deer Valley and Kellis are right there too. The conference is so deep that defending champion Gilbert Higley is now ranked No. 20.

“I don’t think there’s an easy game 1 through 16 when you get to the playoffs. Home court will be a big difference. We’ve got to hold onto it day by day,” Brannick said.

Millennium’s Nathan Avitia sets the ball for a teammate against Deer Valley on April 3 at Deer Valley High School in Glendale [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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