Millennium still No. 1

Completely revamped Tigers girls volleyball in position to repeat


They’re back.

Well, not them. The eight seniors who led Millennium girls volleyball to a 45-1 record and its first state title in 2018 are now in year one of their college careers.

Yet the Tigers enter the home stretch of the regular season right back atop the 5A rankings despite having a mostly new playing rotation. This team entered the week with an 11-0 regular season record and 27-7 overall amrk.

“We’re still making adjustments and we’re still a month into it. It’s a living thing. We’re often compared to last year and we’re completely different from last year. Our strengths and our personnel are different. We’ve had to adjust the systems we run based on the talent we have here,” Millennium coach Julie Vastine said.

Seniors Hannah and Kylie Waters were regulars last season. Junior Jordan Miller rotated in as an attacking weapon while senior Kayle LoPresto saw time as a right side reserve.

That’s pretty much it as far as returnees, though junior Vivian Pham got her feet wet at middle blocker last season in anticipation of a regular spot in 2019. She played in several big matches.

“We have a standard and I think we step on the floor with what we expect to happen. Thankfully, the girls work hard to make that happen. Even if it’s ugly or not we make it happen and get the Ws,” Vastine said. “I try to play a lot of kids and sometimes the current kids are probably thinking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ It’s looking into the future. Those kids need those moments as well. As you have the attrition, that way you maintain that standard.”

More than that, the Tigers have stayed at the top thanks to good health and good luck.

Both specialists, junior libero Callie Johnson and sophomore setter Bianca Perez, missed the bulk of 2018 with injuries. Both help the Waters twins in the areas of defense and setting, respectively.

“Last year I was injured, so I watched from the sidelines all year. It was such an amazing experience to be part of that team. It was a cool, surreal moment. Winning state was amazing,” Johnson said. “We want to live up to our name from last year. We talked about how amazing it was and we all want the same thing for this year.”

Johnson said entering the season, this team knew their abilities and remained confi dent.

Plus, the state title ratcheted up expectations.

“We talked about how we didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding stage. We want to build off of what happened last year,” Perez said.

The returning core helped Millennium stay in contention. Now the team’s No. 1 attacking option, Miller developed into an elite offensive force. As of Oct. 8, she was seventh in the state in kills from all classes, 326 in total in just 80 sets.

Still, the Tigers would not be favorites to repeat in 5A without the arrival of four new players.

Freshman Eryn Jones leads the charge, with 180 kills, good for second on the Tigers.

The arrival of a military family with two daughters from Biloxi, Miss., also provided Pham with some immediate help in the middle. In particular, 6-2 senior Amberly Blowers, changed a potential weakness into a strength.

She leads the Tigers with 80 blocks, while Pham has 52 to add to the intimidation factor. Junior Annabella Blowers rotates in occasionally, in more of an attacking role.

“Moving into a new school is always really difficult, but sports make it easier and especially this team. They’re all very of my sister and I. They really made us feel included. We all have a common goal and working toward that, we’ve been able to grow closer as a team,” Amberly Blowers said.

Now the Tigers will have a surplus of middle blockers for their title push. Junior Olivia Flanigan is eligible after transferring in from distict rival Agua Fria.

Millennium may be able to ride the dominant play of its outside hitters and middles to another title, a year after blitzing the state with a dizzying array of attacking options. Miller, Blowers, Jones and Pham have been that lethal thus far “Last year we were very diversified. We didn’t have one single player we went to. This year we’re a little more outside hitter heavy and the middles more so, as opposed to all three pins. Our hitters have made the biggest difference this year and we’ve relied on them a little more than last year,” Vastine said.

Pham said this regular season has gone by faster, after what seemed to be an interminable wait to play in the 2018 playoffs.

Most opponents have raised their games against the Tigers.

The team took its lumps in the Nike Tournament of Champions Oct. 4-5, losing to three elite out-of-state teams and 5A rival Scottsdale Horizon.But an 8-1 record and championship in the Goldwater Invitational Sept. 2728 raised Millennium’s level of play.

“I think the Goldwater tournament was a real eye opener. It was the best we’d played for the longest length of time. We realized our dream of winning another state championship can be actualized,” Blowers said.