West Valley Preps
The 2019 Millennium girls volleyball team is vastly different than the 2018 squad that stormed to its first state championship, finishing 45-1.
Eight seniors from that team now play college volleyball. But the new-look squad has enough of that title team in its DNA to come through in clutch situations.
That showed in the finish of the last two sets of the Tigers' season opening win at Sunrise Mountain Tuesday night. Junior returning starter Jordan Miller hit kills on the final two points of a 25-20 third set victory, then put the match away by scoring Millennium's final four points of the 25-21 fourth set.
Millennium (1-0) jumped to an early lead but the home Mustangs gave the Tigers all they could handle in a 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 25-21 win.
"We really struggled with our passing and I felt like every two points we earned we gave away a point. We really were our own enemy tonight. Obviously they're a great team as well. I think our girls, especially Jordan in the fourth set, came in clutch," Millennium coach Julie Vastine said. "Kaylee definitely helped terminate the rallies because she was able to place balls well and be smart."
Kaylee LoPresto, a senior outside hitter, also played on last year's champs. Her eight kills were not overwhelming, but timely, and she found repeated success with off-speed, cross-court attacks.
Freshman outside hitter Eryn Jones played beyond her years, recording six kills and three blocks. Miller led all players with 16 kills and seven of those were in the fourth set.
"I liked their heart and how they stayed in it even though we were managing to give away points. This was a pretty loud crowd and I think it got to us a couple times, so to stay focused and block it out late ... I was pretty proud of them for that," Vastine said.
Sunrise Mountain unveiled its own freshman, middle blocker Shelby Gorospe. She chipped in five kills.
The Mustangs also saw eight seniors graduate in the spring - a group that led the program to two points from a 4A state title in 2017 and the 5A quarterfinals last season.
Plus the program has a new coach, as former assistant Brandi Jans took the reins from Bob Levardo last fall. Levardo is coaching at SAGU American Indian College now and watched Tuesday's match.
Jans said she was proud of her team's effort and the level of play they achieved at times. If anything, she said, the Mustangs were sometimes guilty of going for too much.
"I'm going to talk to them about making smarter decisions in tough situations like that. When you have big hitters going against each other, every once in a while they've got to mix it up. That's where I feel we lacked a little bit. We've got to make smarter choices," Jans said.
After falling behind 19-11 in an error-prone first set the home team took advantage of Millennium mistakes to win set two. However, the Mustangs also earned the 25-22 win by playing more efficiently in their transition game.
Senior Hannah Richman moved from middle blocker to right side this year and had thee kills in the set. Senior Kimber Roberts put it away with two straight kills.
"Their drive and energy that game was unstoppable. They weren't letting it go," Jans said. "I think that energy brought them together, as did not making as many mistakes."
Roberts has a bigger role in the attack this season, as does junior Adna Mehmedovic as a full time outside hitter after splitting duties between middle blocker and right side last year.
Mehmedovic finished with 12 kills, while Roberts tallied 13 and was the Mustangs' most consistent force all night.
"She was amazing tonight, and was our go-to player," Jans said.
Miller helped turn the tide late in the back-and-forth third set, tying it at 20, then finishing the set With two cannon blasts.
She was the sixth option on a 2018 overflowing with attacking talent. Now Miller, a Boise State commitment, is the focal point.
"It's a great opportunity and I'm glad I'm able to step into this role and work hard with my team this year," Miller said.
After that third set, the Tigers' players talked about needing to communicate better defensively. Most of the 2018 team played together for three years and could cover for each other and link up almost wordlessly.
The Millennium defense improved as the fourth set went on, led by junior libero Calli Johnson who missed the title run with an injury. This kept points alive until Miller could finish them.
"Seeing my girls in the back court do their job made me want to do my job even more. I wanted to complement their defense. It's not an easy job," Miller said.