Mills has long prided itself on being a fundamental volleyball team.
Now, first-year head coach Mikey Brogonia’s sqaud is looking for that spark.
The Vikings (1-1 overall) showed occasional sparks Thursday in hosting a non-league match with Moreau Catholic-Hayward. But unlike last week’s season opener — a four-set win over Galileo-SF — Mills was overmatched by a Moreau Catholic team that overloaded the front row with firepower in a 25-18, 25-17, 25-21 sweep.
“We’re very strong defensively and passing wise,” Brogonia said. “We’re working very hard every day, trying to get a little more physical at the net.”
Mills stands to learn a lot from Moreau Catholic (1-1), a team that has advanced to the North Coast Section playoffs for 12 straight years, and earned its first ticket to the CIF state playoffs last season. The Vikings have not seen the postseason since 2008.
More so, Moreau Catholic is certainly physical at the net. And while the Vikings took early leads in each of the final two sets, they couldn’t contend with senior outside hitter Kendall Smith, who put on a clinic from the left side with a career-high 17 kills.
“She did really well,” Mills junior opposite Chloe Tam said. “She was able to place them in spots where we weren’t and put them away from my block, so I couldn’t get many touches.”
Tam has a chance to be that front-row spark. The 5-10 left-hander has a natural power swing, and showed it off in small doses Thursday. The junior totaled six kills, sharing the team-high with senior outside hitter Lexi Francisco.
For Tam, though, the trick has been subtracting. She is not a year-round volleyball player, and does not play club. In fact, her main sport it basketball. So, she has been refining her approach on the fly this season with the help of her new coach Brogonia.
“I usually swing with all my power,” Tam said. “But my coach has helped me to find my spots.”
With just 10 players in uniform Thursday, the Vikings had to rely on a trio of freshman. Each made contributions, with libero Elisa Young going off from the service line in Game 3.
“Fortunately we’ve had a lot of freshmen able to step up and fight for playing time,” Brogonia said.
Mills was overcome in the opening two sets, never leading in Game 1 and watching an early Game 2 lead of 6-2 slip away quickly from there. In Game 3, though, Young finessed four aces, with her final one giving Mills a late lead at 18-17.
While it’s just the second match Young and Tam have played together, Tam said she wasn’t surprised at Young’s performance, citing the early chemistry the team has established.
“Not exactly surprised because I know her serves are really good,” Tam said.
Mills led until 19-18, but Moreau Catholic finished on a 7-2 run. The Mariners turned to some youth of their own with sophomore Kaili Spooner tying it 19-19 with her lone kill of the evening. The tied advanced to 21-21, when Smith scored consecutive kills, the beginning of the end en route to Brogonia’s first varsity loss.
Smith emerged for a spectacular finish in Game 2 as well. The Vikings got as close as 17-14, but after a side-out put Moreau Catholic on the serve, Smith scored the next six points for her team to force set point. The only thing that stopped her was she rotated off the floor. But Mariners sophomore middle Joanne Ohwobete — who earlier in the set, on a sharp serve by her own teammate, took an errant shot off the back of her head — finished it off with a kill though the middle.
Mills freshman Hailey Lo and sophomore Vivian Kwan added five kills apiece.
The new coaching position is Brogonia’s first at the varsity level. A graduate of Lowell-SF, he coached the junior-varsity team at his alma mater before serving as an assistant coach at Skyline College for two seasons.
He also coaches club at 650 Xtreme Volleyball, the same club former Mills head coach Karen Chiu calls home. The two even coached the same 12-and-under team over the summer.