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Skyline learning to put the Vee into victory

Longtime East Valley volleyball coach Vee Hiapo has taken on a new challenge with the Skyline girls volleyball program. (Jason P. Skoda/MyNewsMesa.com)

When a highly successful coach takes over a program that has struggled to be competitive, let alone produce a winning season, concessions must be made.

Mostly by the coach.

It is something Vee Hiapo has come to learn since taking over the Skyline girls volleyball program.

Everything she has done as a coach – drills, expectations, teaching technique, etc. – for 25 years had to be ratcheted down to connect on a level most of the players could grasp.

She is not coaching a team good enough to play for a national championship as she did at the club and junior college level nor are the Coyotes ready to win a state champion as she did with the Highland boys program.

Skyline won its final two games at the House of Payne tournament to win the Bronze division last weekend. (Jason P. Skoda/MyNewsMesa.com)

The Coyotes won 14 matches last year under Brennan O’Connor and made the postseason for the first time in school history. It was only the second time since 2007 Skyline won more than six matches, including six seasons where it won four matches or less.

It’s not quite what Hiapo is used to since she started coaching after getting into coaching after her All-American career at BYU-Hawaii ended.

“My daughter (Kamaile) was the one who told me that you need to be in an area like this,” Hiapo said. “I could have done to several places but she said you can help them. They have no one that believes in them.”

The results have been mixed as Hiapo tries to instill her ideals and style. Skyline entered Wednesday’s action 3-9 overall and 1-3 in power ranking rankings matches.

There has been a good mix of offense between senior Lacie Tenney, junior Malia Halverson and senior Clarissa Fernandez, while senior Alma Cervantes, sophomore setter Gabriele Green and Fernandez have been leading the way serving.

Defensively, Tenney and Green have been solid at the net, while junior Marissa Roberts, Green and Fernandez have been solid in the back row.

The weekend at Chandler’s House of Payne tournament ended well as the Coyotes won their final two matches, beating Dobson and Casteel, to take home the bronze bracket title.

It was such a foreign concept that when it was time to leave the gym senior captain middle hitter Lacie Tenney had to ask Hiapo multiple times “What should I do with this?” while holding out the plaque recognizing the division championship.

Hiapo eventually told her take it with her; that the team earned it.

It was a testament to the growth the Coyotes have had so far and what might be ahead as they beat an East Valley Region opponent in Dobson and took a set from Mesa earlier in the tournament.

“We played probably our best volleyball of the year,” Tenney said. “It showed us we can be pretty good when we play together.”

They’ve come along since Hiapo first entered the gym and began her aggressive and demonstrative coaching style.

“She was pretty intimidating at first,” senior outside hitter Clarissa Fernandez said. “Most of us have never been coached like that and it was an adjustment. It was a big shock. We are used to it now. We are learning a lot and putting it in the matches.

“It used to be we were just happy with getting the ball over the net. Anywhere. Just over the net was good enough. Now we are hitting everything down the line and with a purpose.”

Skyline will get a boost when Kamaile Hiapo, right, becomes eligible after transferring from Campo Verde, where she was an all-state performer. (Jason P. Skoda/MyNewsMesa.com)

Junior Kamaile Hiapo, Vee’s daughter, has watched the players pick up what the new coach is teaching and seen her Mom take a different approach talking, teaching and mentoring a new set of girls.

“It’s been interesting to watch,” said Kamaile, who must sit of half the season after transferring from Campo Verde. “They are learning a lot and it is a whole new thing for everyone. They are picking it up. It’s a whole new world of volleyball for them.”

As much as the program has begun a transformation, the coach is still going through hers as well.

“It has humbled me,” she said. “These kids have gotten to me. I mean I was driving to work and tears came out of my eyes thinking about them. The experience of coaching is so great and each team is different. This group is happy with every win they get. We’ve won national championships and state championships so it’s a different feel.

“These girls enjoy every win that they get because they haven’t had many in the past. This has been an amazing experience. I’ve had to take a different approach to coach kids who want to learn, and don’t already know what to do. It’s as simple as why are you there instead of over there.”

The 2017 season is just a start as Hiapo attempts to bring the program up to the level she has always been accustomed.

“I love to have them competing against high-level teams and understand that I am going to stay here until the task is complete like I’ve done at every other place,” she said. “It might take longer, but it is what we are going to do.”

– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to jskoda@mynewsmesa.com.

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