Mesa boys volleyball coach Anthony Millanes took a few minutes this week to talk about winning the Wolf Howl invitational tournament last week, pursuing a state title with a talented, senior-heavy lineup, and the return of a key player from serious injury.
Q: Your team knocked on the door and was five points away from the 2013 championship match (lost to Highland in the semifinals). How has that molded this year’s team?
A: I feel some (other) teams in the past, when you groom a group and go through the process, we did that three years ago with these seniors when they were freshmen and try to prepare them for what they’d see and the mental toughness needed to win. I told them a state championship isn’t won in March, but so far it’s been a testament to how they’re working and wanting to be around. The group knows there are high expectations to be good.
Q: You lost five seniors from last year so why are expectations higher in 2014?
A: I think it starts with JT Hatch and Seth Johnson and Jacob Komenda, who have been in the program a long time. JT is going to UCLA next year and was MVP of the Wolf Howl tournament. Honestly, we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder to be one of the elite programs and be with the Gilbert schools, Brophy, and schools who have shown what it takes, and that’s what we’re trying to emulate.
Q: Your team won the Wolf Howl Invitational by beating Brophy in the finals, what have you liked about this team’s play so far?
A: They showed a lot of resolve and character, which I was impressed with. We won the pool with a 4-0 record and played a really good Chandler team that’s better than most people think. They’re well-coached and all those kids are playing club ball. We luckily got by them in three games but then were flat and seemed complacent early Saturday. I was worried we were gassed. But the kids took it to another level into the afternoon and against Brophy, and it really impressed they took it to another level. I was impressed with our guys for that.
Q: Is JT Hatch the guy who sets the tone for this team?
A: He does and it can be positive and negative. He’s the consummate worker and player at a very, very high level. When his practices and games are off he gets super frustrated. Keeping him in the right mindframe is important. Consistency is key. He needs to work on that and evolve his game mentally, as good as he already is. He makes us go and there’s a great nucleus around him. No one player has ever won a state title. I think (Komenda) is as good as anybody as an outside hitter. We have a great libero in (junior) Clark Fleming. There’s a lot of good pieces and a lot of seniors so the future is contingent on this group and how they set the tone.
Q: Seth Johnson missed all of last year with a torn ACL. How is his return progressing?
A: It scares me every time he goes to hit a ball. I had an ACL tear in college and I know what the pain and rehab is like, and he’s a big-time diver. He’s such a great player and a great kid. It’s terrifying at times and then he crushes the ball and smiles back, and I feel better. He’s been a “go” since day one, and he had a full year to rehab. I don’t think we’ve touched the surface of where he can be in two months from, and that’s exciting for this team.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.