The senior-heavy Desert Ridge girls volleyball team has high hopes entering the new season.
Coming off a tough state playoff loss following a 3-8 showing in the league, head coach Anthony Millanes has strong ambitions for his team to make a run in the playoffs and leave a special memory for the departing seniors. With all the uncertainty surrounding the season amid a global pandemic, Millanes wants his players to enjoy their last season together.
“I want you to enjoy your season from beginning to end, that was goal number one,” Millanes said. “I want your senior year to be a fantastic year for you and a fantastic opportunity.”
In the past, Millanes solely cared about winning. He has since reflected and changed who he is as a coach.
“Winning isn’t the end all be all,” Millanes said. “Obviously I have a lot of competitors in my gym, but realistically they want to enjoy their season.”
Still, competition runs deep for the Desert Ridge Jaguars.
The Jaguars compete in a tough section, with Corona del Sol, Desert Vista, Highland, Mountain Pointe and Queen Creek all making the playoffs last season.
“I think we have a good amount of talent to be a state-contending team again,,” Millanes said. “We have just as much talent this year to do those same things and compete in our section.”
In order to be successful, the team will rely on its veteran leadership and strong bonds formed over years of playing together. Chemistry can be hit or miss for teams, but with the Jaguars it’s one of their greatest strengths.
“We have a very good bond and I feel like that makes us a lot stronger as a team,” said senior Averie Blake. “We’ve been playing together for a very long time.”
Eight of their 16 players are seniors, and the leadership of the veteran players will be essential in their mission to return to the playoffs
The finality of the season doesn’t add any pressure but instead motivates these seniors to perform well.
“I think because this is our last high school season we’re gonna give it our all and get out there and have fun together,” senior Sadie Bluth said.
Uncertainty surrounding the season planted some seeds of anxiousness that carried over into a preseason scrimmage. Following a strong Mountain View opponent, the girls had a nervous look written all over their faces, according to Millanes. However, once they got a game under their belt, those preseason jitterbugs were squashed and replaced with thrilled butterflies.
“I think our mindset is that we are really excited and because we’ve waited so long and we are ready to play and get out there,” said senior Paige Wilson.
Millanes has highlighted serving and passing to be priorities for the team’s success.
“Volleyball is an up-and-down battle throughout the 25 points,” said Millanes. “For [the team] to stay consistent and focus on their serving and passing to be above and better than the other team, that’s the big priority early on.”
Senior setter and captain Mariah Cable will be a crucial piece to the Jaguars’ offense, with every attack funneled through her. Competing in her third year on varsity, Cable’s ball distribution will be a key to victory.
But every senior on the team has a big role to play as a leader and mentor to the younger players, Millanes said.
“That’s when you know you have a good program when the seniors are willing to provide that example to the underclassmen,” said Millanes. “As a coach that makes my life so much easier because they share the culture with the underclassmen which is what you hope for in a perfect world.”
Velasco is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Desert Ridge High School.