Seven seniors in the Class of 2020 helped start the Millennium boys volleyball program four years ago and were denied a legitimate shot to finish their careers with the state title by the COVID-19 outbreak.
After taking their lumps in 2017 and hovering around .500 in 2018, the Tigers moved to 5A and broke out with a 30-8-2 record and quarterfinals.
With only two seniors on that team, Millennium was poised to go further and perhaps win it all in 2020.
“Honestly, they took the next step and did it by putting in the work. After our loss to Campo Verde last year in the quarterfinals, it was right back to work for all of the guys. We were lucky enough to bring back six of seven from the starting lineup. The team played club ball at a national level for the next six months, many having great success and seeing some of the best outside of Arizona. A lot of the guys discovered the weight room and we got a lot stronger. It was impressive to see the growth and the boys were excited to reap the benefits,” Millennium boys volleyball coach Shawn Brannick stated in an email interview.
Early on the improvement was clear. Following two routine wins, the Tiger took part in the Chandler tournament. Brannick said the tournament was a chance to see the elite teams in Arizona.
Millennium beat all but one of them. The team knocked off 6A powerhouses O’Connnor, Highland and Desert Vista as well as 5A contender Gilbert. Perry beat the Tigers in the semifinal and O’Connor won the Wolf Howl.
“The Chandler tournament was a big thing for us only losing one game which was to Perry, who took second place in. We were able to knock off a very talented O’Connor program which won the tournament and would’ve had a great season. We knew coming into the season that we had a talented special group and The Wolf Howl only increased that belief,” senior middle blocker Hayden Coday stated in a Twitter interview.
How far this team could have gone remains an unknown. Millennium never played another game after the tournament. The subsequent tournament at Kellis was canceled, then the season was suspended March 15 and called off entirely March 30.
Originally, the Tigers were going to end March with a quarterfinals rematch with Campo Verde, the defending 5A state champion.
“At first when the season was on hold, it was a little difficult but it wasn’t the worst and we were all trying to stay positive and were hoping for it to start back up within a month. When it was officially canceled, it was a difficult day for all of us and it was definitely one of the worst days of my life and I think a lot of guys would say that about them as well. It’s still really difficult to deal with, it’s hard knowing that as seniors we’re going to have unfinished business here, but we just have to look forward to the future and move on,” Coday stated.
He said he was very confident in the team’s chances of winning it all this year, because the core group has been playing together for four years and many play club volleyball together.
The two teams, Coday and senior outside hitter Austin McKee said, that the Tigers were looking forward to playing were Casteel and Campo Verde. Casteel also has a top club group and they are one of the few 5A teams Millennium lost to last season — in the Agua Fria tournament. And, he said, ever since that final whistle on May 7 last year, Campo has been on the radar.
“Casteel was a team that was similar to us, as they were pretty quiet but all of a sudden had a burst of talent. With basically an entire roster of Rush club players it was known that the match between us would have been legendary,” McKee stated in an email interview.
Brannick saw a much deeper field to navigate to reach the championship goal.
“The 5A was the deepest that I had seen since my arrival to Arizona this season. Casteel, Gilbert, Campo, ALA-Queen Creek and Cienega were all strong teams to watch from the East and South. The West Valley never seems to get as much love in the power points, but continues to churn out very competitive teams each year in the tournament with Ironwood, Deer Valley, Agua Fria, Kellis and Sunrise making noise these past couple seasons. We expected a dogfight come state tournament time,” Brannick stated.
Millennium was on spring break when class adjourned for the year (on-campus classes), so Brannick said it was hard to comprehend the situation for a lot of people in the program while we awaited the decision from the AIA.
McKee said the grief in the team’s group chat when the season was canceled was unlike anything he has seen before.
“We have groupme and zoom, so we were able to put out weekly workouts in hopes that the season would continue. Coach Furco also created a Tik-Tok volleyball video competition to keep everyone connected during the week. When we heard the news of the cancellation, (Millennium athletic director Remigio) Gordillo held a signing ceremony via Zoom that allowed our seniors moving onto the next level to play a chance to get a proper send off,” Brannick stated.
The coach said this was the most selfless group that he has ever coached, that every guy came into the gym each day ready to work and battle when it came to scrimmage time.
“Once we found our starting line-up, the chemistry and leadership on the team was fun to watch. Guys on the bench were adamant to find a role to help contribute to the team’s success. They contributed in many ways, whether it be a blocking, serving, or a defensive sub. There were multiple times early in the season at the Chandler tournament that guys like Neldon Palmer and Andres Martinez would swing a match by coming in on a service run after dropping the first set. It was huge for us and brought the team closer together,” Brannick said.
Coday said many things that make the senior group special, as freshman the school started the program and since the freshman year, this group turned around the culture and created a successful program. He said the senior group has 10 kids all with different personalities, which worked out in their favor, creating a family aspect that is not always seen at the high school level.
“We had times where guys would get together at each others homes playing video games or going out and playing any sport with one another, everyone just seemed so talented. On the court things always went well, cracking jokes and enjoying ourselves at the right time and when it was time to get serious you could tell by the vibe in the gym that no one was messing around,” McKee stated. “Some of my personal favorite memories was getting to scrimmage at the end of a practice and just seeing everyone going all out no matter what. Especially the team at the end who won loved to run their mouth or talk some trash in the middle of the games.”
Brannick said at least four seniors will play volleyball in college.
Libero Mason Galindo will be playing both volleyball and golf at Baldwin-Wallace University, right outside of Cleveland, Ohio.
McKee will attend the University of Charleston in West Virginia. They play in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, which includes schools like Penn State, George Mason, Princeton and Harvard.
He said he wants to study business.
“Some things that stood out to me are how well-bonded the entire team is. In fact if I didn’t know they were a volleyball team I would claim that they are just a bunch of best friends enjoying a college experience. Don’t get me wrong these guys go at it on the court, whether it’s workouts or just a morning practice these guys are going all out trying to get better and prove they can be the next top team,” McKee stated.
Brannick said Miles Duncan has received multiple offers and is deciding on his school in the coming weeks. Oskar Kozieja had multiple offers to play collegiately as well, settling on Arizona State to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
Coday had a tumultuous month of April beyond missing volleyball and a statewide stay at home order. The middle blocker signed with Urbana University in Illinois on Dec. 5, 2019, only for the university to announce on April 21 that it was closing.
“Hearing about Urbana shutting down was really difficult, it was completely unexpected for everyone, and it was a heart breaking day, and it’s still kind of tough to swallow,” Coday stated.
In less than a month he rebounded, signing on May 12 to play for North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.
He said he is looking into studying business or marketing with an emphasis on sports or entertainment.
“I really want to shout out or acknowledge Coach Brannick for doing everything he could to help me with finding a new home for the next few years, I truly wouldn’t be in as good of a position recruiting wise in this time without him,” Coday said.