Open Mic
Johnson's return stabilizes Trojans' rotation

What a difference one player makes.

Nate Johnson played in his first match back from a hand injury to help host Mililani hand Waianae its first loss of the regular season, 25-22, 25-19, in a key Oahu Interscholastic Association West contest last Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter put down a match-high 11 kills to help the Trojans improve to 6-2 in the league standings.

Mililani, the reigning OIA Division I champion, has had an up-and-down season prior to Wednesday.

Johnson was the top offensive weapon for the Trojans heading into 2018, but had a cast on his hitting hand for most of the regular season because he fractured his right hand after some frustration at the Longhi tournament before the start of OIA West play.

The Trojans got by their first four regular season opponents in straight sets, but dropped three-set contests to Campbell and Waipahu on March 14 and March 21 respectively. It was also the Sabers' first win over Mililani since 2014 and the Marauders' first regular season victory over the Trojans since 2013.

"We hit rock bottom the past couple weeks," said Mililani's Chance Guillermo, the reigning OIA West Player of the Year. "Definitely when we lost to Campbell and Waipahu it was like a reality check for us."

But right when they hit their lowest of lows, the Trojans got some good news when Johnson got his cast removed the day after their loss to Waipahu.

Nate Johnson digs up a ball against Waianae in the first set of an OIA West contest on March 28. Michael Lasquero | SL    Purchase image

He returned to practiced that following Monday and worked his way into the rotation before making his season debut against the Seariders on March 28.

"I was expecting to be out one more week with a split, but then the doctor said 'everything looks good, you're all clear to play,' so I said 'rajah dat,'" Johnson said recalling his return back to the court.

Mililani looked like a brand new team with its emotional leader on the floor as it put together its best match of the season to knock off the Seariders, who were ranked eighth in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Boys Volleyball Power Rankings heading into the week.

"He is the heart and soul of the team, and he was last season," Mililani coach Trent Niino said of Johnson. "It's evident. When he is in there, the whole team is playing at a higher level, and he's pushing them to be at his level. That's what he brings to this team."

The senior outside hitter is hoping that his team's win over Waianae can propel the Trojans back to the bar that they set the previous year.

"For sure our confidence is definitely boosted, especially after beating an unbeaten team like Waianae," Johnson said. "It really means a lot to our morale and our confidence moving on in the season."

Johnson's return also gives the Trojans flexibility in the lineup as this allows Mililani to utilize a 6-2 offense to give Guillermo some opportunities as a hitter. Guillermo was a backup middle as a freshman before moving to setter as a sophomore.

"Now that I'm a junior and one of the upperclassmen, the team is going to rely more on me to put balls away, so definitely a 6-2 is an option going into the playoffs," said Guillermo.

When Mililani uses a 6-2 offense, Tory Kato gets involved in the setting duties.

When he isn't setting in the rotation, Guillermo gives way to junior Tory Kato at the controls. Both players did a solid job in their added responsibilities as Guillermo had five kills and Kato dished out seven assists.

"He's definitely raw material, very young at the start of the season," Guillermo said of Kato. "I really wanted to help him out because I really did want to hit and help my team and stuff - so in practices I would always give him some pointers like my coaches last year did to me, to develop him into a good setter that most of the team will look up to."

The Trojans will resume league play when they host Nanakuli on Wednesday, April 4.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].



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