Athletes will tell you that jelling as a group is crucial to championship teams. At least that’s what the Tribune’s boys volleyball player of the year says.
"We are essentially the same group from freshman year," B.J. Hiapo said. "Team chemistry is definitely very important."
The Highland group progressed over those four years under then-new coach Vee Hiapo, B.J.’s mom. They improved into a playoff team the second year and have won the state title the last two years with B.J. Hiapo at setter.
"We would go on out-oftown tournaments and those brought us together more than any in-state match could," said B.J. Hiapo, who moonlighted as an outside hitter this season.
The humble 6-foot-1 senior takes many of his cues from mom — a longtime club and college coach who now splits her time between Chandler-Gilbert Community College and Highland. Four years ago she and the team had a vision. Her son helped her realize it.
"B.J. is the backbone of the team," she said earlier in the season. "He keeps it together. He does everything. He’s just a good leader. Skill-wise he probably has the mentality and skills of a college player right now."
So now, the younger Hiapo looks to make his mark on the world. Part of that will be in the volleyball world. He likely will go to Long Beach City College — a top juco program — for a year and then plans on taking his two-year Mormon mission.
"But Division I volleyball, that’s where I want to be when I get back," he said.
He should have plenty to offer, if his Highland teammates are right.
"B.J. is money in the middle," said the Hawks’ leading hitter, Tyson Barry. "His sets are all over the place, he can mix anything up. He can be on the back side of the court, and still set anywhere. He’s unstoppable."
Hiapo earned Fiesta Region Player of the Year honors before the state tournament and then guided his team back to the top of the heap, overcoming perennial power Mountain Pointe, sweeping Tucson Salpointe and then outpointing Southern Region rival Tucson Canyon del Oro. On the final day, B.J. had 45 assists in the two matches and perfectly set Barry for the titleclinching kill — like it was written in the script.
"I guess I’m more a leader by example," the quiet Hiapo said. "I do things and they see me doing, follow my lead. I don’t have to tell them what to do."