This trip to the 5A girls volleyball final was far different for Millennium than the previous three.
In 2018 and 2020 the Tigers were the overwhelming force, sweeping their way to state title. And in 2019 Millennium was points away from a five-set win when Sunnyslope made an epic comeback. On Nov. 13 the Tigers saw life on the other side.
Top seed Scottsdale Horizon (38-5) took control of the match in Veterans Memorial Coliseum from the jump. The Huskies routed the Tigers 25-15, 25-14, 25-15 to complete their mission for a first state title since 2012.
"We were all on. There's nothing else to say besides we all showed up," Horizon senior outside hitter Taylor Johnson said. "I always play better when I'm having fun. We watched on film for what to do on defense. We knew they have a big outside hitter in Eryn Jones and that their setter was tough."
Johnson (14 kills) had help in a dominant attack from junior Kendal Murphy (14 kills) and senior Eden Driescher (9 kills). Millennium never led at any point during the match.
Tigers coach Julie Vastine knew her young 2021 team was up against it after being swept by the Huskies in the opening week of the season. Her only source of frustration was how the team played on the big stage, with miscommunication leading to several balls dropping.
"We didn't come out and play like we normally do. We let balls drop that we normally don't. And we struggled in serve receive, which we normally don't," Vastine said. "This team is really young so for me it's collecting all these moments. I'm not upset. I knew it was going to be a battle, I just wish we would have been a little cleaner in our play." It's ok tho work hard in lose, but sometimes I don't know if we're working hard in every moment."
Horizon returned all but two rotation players from a 2020 team that was a 5A title favorite until rival Cactus Shadows erased a two-set deficit to win the quarterfinal 15-13 in the fifth set.
The Falcons also stuck the Huskies with their only regular season loss this year. But Horizon took out Cactus Shadows in four sets in the semifinals, and played free of burden in the final.
"Cactus Shadows took us out last year. We came out guns blazing when we played them. We weren't going to let them take us out again," Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Millennium swept that Cactus Shadows team in the 2020 final. This year, the program returned only three players - senior setter Bianca Perez, junior outside hitter Eryn Jones and junior middle blocker Olivia Pavelchik - to its rotation.
Senior libero Morgan Stewart transferred in from Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge and senior defensive specialist Charlotte Goto rotated in some each match. But Perez was the main link to previous title teams.
"The seniors have invested so much in these young ones. This is why we're able to come out with such a young team and perform. Bianca's leadership has been phenomenal and we're going to miss her big time. She can do a lot and we lose a lot without her," Vastine said.
In truth, simply making the finals again with such an inexperienced team may have exceeded expectations. Millennium wobbled at times during its Nov. 11 home semifinal against #3 Gilbert before pulling it out in five sets.
Jones will return as a four-year starter. She'll be joined by sophomore outside hitter Anne Brauckmiller, Pavelchik, sophomore middle blocker Talea Mitchell, freshman outside hitter Sa'Mya Dorsey and freshman libero Jordyn Dugi.
"The venue changes and you're under the lights and everything. Even as a head coach I learned from my first state final. You get the experience and get better at it," Vastine said.
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