Brannick, MHS boys’ volleyball excelling in year three

A year removed from a 16-win season, the Tigers stormed back to record 30 wins en route to a postseason appearance.

Three years ago, Shawn Brannick saw a job posting for the Millennium High School boys’ volleyball team, located 1,800 miles away from home.

Living in Chicago at the time, Brannick saw the Tigers were introducing a boys’ volleyball program.

They just needed a head coach — one who was willing to take on the tedious task of building a program from scratch.

His wife already accepted a position at Midwestern University in Glendale, so a move across the country and to the desert was imminent. Brannick applied for the post.

His interest in engineering Millennium’s boys’ volleyball program was soon reciprocated.

The school’s athletic director, Remigio Gordillo, knew he had his man from the moment he met Brannick, when the two first chatted via Skype.

In more or less words, it was love at first Skype.

“He had the pedigree as a former Division 1 college player, experience coaching high school and club, an obvious passion and joy for coaching the game. He also had a dynamic personality that we knew would resonate with student athletes. We weren’t looking for a coach. We were looking for a program builder,” Gordillo said.

“It sounded like a fun challenge,” Brannick added. “I had spoken with Remigio over the phone and he did a really good job of selling me and the school, and I hadn’t actually seen it until I got on campus. He said it’s a really good community, lot of the boys were itching to get into competing at the high-school level.

“I was bought in and the rest is kind of history from there.”

In just three short seasons, Brannick has quickly constructed Millennium into one of the finest boys’ programs in the West Valley.

After a pedestrian first two seasons, the Tigers were wildly successful this spring. They went 30-8-2, advancing into the second round of the 5A state tournament. Their 30 wins nearly doubled their 16-win count from 2018. In 2017, the introductory season, the Tigers were 5-17.

“This was a very, very fun year,” Brannick said over the phone.

Along with Brannick’s leadership, the Tigers were also fortunate to establish a core of players this spring.

Of the 13 on the roster, eight are juniors and three are sophomores, meaning they’ll return a mirror image of this year’s team in 2020.

Paired with the incoming senior leadership, the Tigers will also return their best player, sophomore Nathan Avitia, a 5-foot-11, 155-pound setter who burst onto the scene to become one of Millennium’s most dependable players.

In the 100 sets he appeared in, he racked up 905 assists. The next closest Tiger in the assists category had just 81. In 2,119 ball handling attempts, Avitia made just 14 errors, according to maxpreps.com.

Avitia was named the 2019 Player of the Year for the 5A Phoenix Region Conference. Brannick was tabbed the conference’s Coach of the Year.

The loss of the two seniors, Greg Hess and Adam Smith — the only two seniors of this year’s bunch — will be “substantial,” Brannick said.

Smith had 193 kills in 81 sets played. Hess played in 27 sets, racking up 20 kills and nine aces.

Both were instrumental figures in laying the groundwork for the future of the Tigers program.

The biggest changes Brannick saw his athletes make — from year one to year two to year three — is their commitment level. Hence, the drastic improvement in the Tigers’ record in Brannick’s tenure.

Boys’ volleyball has been a hot commodity in the West Valley in recent years, and club teams are on the rise. More than half of the roster plays on a club team, Brannick said, as everyone has become more fixated on playing as frequently as they can.

Brannick was surprised, he said, that the Tigers found their footing as soon as they did in the fast-paced 5A conference. It can often take a handful of years for new programs to get even a whiff of success.

But Millennium, as if it didn’t have enough successful sports teams already on campus, established itself as a perennial postseason contender this spring.

That sour, unmistakable taste of a second-round loss in the state tournament, to eventual champions Campo Verde, will carry over into the off-season months for the Tigers.

Now that they’ve gotten their feet wet in the postseason, they’re hungry for more.

Brannick thinks it’s all within reach with this 2020 team, too.

“We want to come back and make another deep run in the playoffs. It’d be nice to be holding that trophy at the end of the year, but we know there’s a lot of work ahead of us, so it’ll all start in August again,” he said.