Open Mic
New-look Trojans will finish as West's top team

Anyone that has seen the Mililani boys volleyball program lately will notice a lot of new faces in the mix.

For starters, Mililani has a new starting setter, a new outside hitter, a new middle blocker and a new head coach on the sideline instructing the team.

In spite of the changeover, the Trojans have pieced the puzzle together and have breezed to a 9-0 start to the season and will be the Western Division's top-seeded team in the league's 12-team Division I playoffs, which begins next Wednesday.

One of the biggest contributing factors to Mililani's success has been the development of sophomore setter Chance Guillermo, who was a backup middle on last year's team that finished fourth in the state tournament.

"It's definitely a huge step honestly," he said. "This year I have more of a vocal and leadership role. Last year I was like in the shadows of the seniors, just coming in, coming out (of the rotation), playing middle, getting blocks and stuff, but this year, I really have to run the offense and help my team win."

Guillermo, who also plays as an outside hitter on his club team, stepped into the role at the start of the season with the graduation of Zavier Lieb. The 6-foot sophomore has really grown into the position and has averaged 17.25 assists a match when the stat was tracked.

Unlike a year ago when the Trojans relied heavily on Isaac Liva, who now plays for the University of Hawaii, and Kamalu Kaaa, Guillermo has been able to spread out his sets to a plethora of weapons. In straight set wins over Waipahu and Campbell, seven different players registered kills.

"Right now I think he's probably the best setter I've seen so far in the tournaments and the OIA West," first-year Mililani coach Trenton Niino, said after a mid-season win over Waipahu. "He's really stepping it up and he's playing a helluva of a game."

Another key piece for the Trojans this season has been the emergence of junior outside hitter Nathaniel Johnson, who has only been playing the sport for about a year. Johnson, a 6-foot-2 junior, joined the volleyball club A'o a Koa, which is put on by University of Hawaii mens volleyball coach Charlie Wade, in the offseason to better his game before moving up to the varsity level.

"Knowing that I had to move up to the varsity level next year made me work harder in the offseason," said Johnson. "Playing in a volleyball club just kind of pushed me to motivate myself because I knew we was losing (Isaac) Liva."

The extra work has paid off for Johnson as he and three-year varsity player Sila Fuiava gives the Trojans a solid one-two punch at the pins.

Another new face to the game is senior Andrew Valladares, who also plays basketball and was a two-year starting receiver for the Trojans' football program.

"He literally learned the game, organized volleyball, before the season and one month later he's our starting middle blocker," Niino said.

Niino is the new head coach for the Mililani boys varsity team, but he's been around the program for a while as an assistant with John Ing, who stepped down to coach the junior varsity team.

Even though the Trojans have only dropped one set in league play thus far, Niino knows that his team can play at a higher level.

"I still don't think our boys played their best match (yet)," Niino said following a straight set win over Campbell on March 30. "I've been stressing to the boys, you get on court, you do business andf it you get off."

In Mililani's wins over Waipahu and Campbell, the Trojans helped the opposing team stay close in the first set with errors before cleaning it up in the second set to pull away for the win.

While the Trojans won't face any tough competition until the playoffs, the team knows they have to be a lot better if it wants to bring home a title.

"We just have to work harder even though we come out with wins because all these other teams are probably working just as harder, or even harder, so we have to be prepared for that," said Fuiava.

Mililani hosts Aiea (2-7) Tuesday night to close out the regular season before enjoying nine days off without another match.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].



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