March 15, 2006 - Rachel Millette stood on the makeshift podium in the gym at Canyon Del Oro High School to hush the buzzing crowd awaiting the announcement of the championship brackets of the Hitman Classic.
At the top of her lungs, she announced team by team who would be moving on and who would play out the day in the consolation bracket. Her final announcement - CDO versus Brophy High School, a rematch of an earlier game-elicited a collective "oooh" from the crowd of players, coaches and well wishers packed onto the court.
Here it was, in front of a mob of her peers, where Millette and her young CDO boys volleyball team and even younger coaching career would get its first real test.
Although her team came out fired up, the Hitmen were no match for the powerful Brophy squad, a team earlier in the day they had taken to three games before losing. CDO lost in the first round of the championship bracket 25-13, 25-12. Today, there would be no Cinderella story.
But the fairytale slipper hasn't been thrown in the closet just yet. Millette is in the first year as head coach of the CDO Hitmen, becoming the program's third head coach in nine months.
Millette inherited the head varsity coach's role after Patrick McDonald stepped down at the end of last season and the newly appointed Ryan Call severely injured his knee the weekend before tryouts. McDonald is now teaching military children overseas in Taiwan.
Like the majority of her players, Millette's previous experience extended no further than the junior varsity program. If taking over as a rookie head coach wasn't difficult enough, Millette has the daunting task of leading a program that finished as state runner up last season.
The CDO program found itself in disarray after Call's injury happened so close to the season opener against Gilbert High School.
"It's been a bumpy start and going up to Gilbert was fairly stressful because I didn't know what to expect from the guys," said Millette, who has since settled into her new role. "They played their best and we realized we were going to be OK."
The Hitmen's best was good enough for a win over Gilbert - a team last year's squad eliminated in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Millette hasn't been thrown into her new position alone. Helping out the University of Arizona veterinary science major is a coaching crew of young coaches with just as much coaching experience and a savvy veteran.
Former Hitmen Rob Snider, class of 2003, Gilbert Castillo (2005) and David Klawon (2002) will be advising Millette - a graduate of Rincon/University High School - from the sidelines this season.
Because none of the fresh-faced coaches, who's average age tops out around 21, are certified teachers, Melva Lundy has agreed to help out the program as it struggles to separate itself from Hitmen teams of years past.
Lundy is familiar with the program. She coached the boys for 13 years starting in the early 1990s and was at the helm for the 1996 state championship team.
Although her role will be more of an administrative position with the Hitmen, Lundy is always there for the relentless questions the young staff can come up with.
"This is a great group of kids," said Lundy, who coaches CDO's girls volleyball in the fall. "They deserve it, so I'll help them out."
To call it a rebuilding year at CDO isn't apt. This year's squad is chocked full of seniors, most of whom spent last year on the junior varsity. Where last year's squad was an offensive juggernaut, this year's Hitmen are more defensive oriented.
Being so close in age to her players is both a bonus and a potential nightmare.
"I think it's bad because I still have my share of goofiness and I'll laugh at them or with them when I should be disciplining them," said Millette who played college volleyball for the University of Arizona's Women's Club team. "I think it's good because the recent transition to the game, all the new rules and the way it's evolving, I've been around it and I've been in it."
To ease the transition, Millette falls back on her past coaching gigs including six years with Club Cactus Juniors, Dave Rubio camps, assistant at CDO and most importantly, her fellow coaches.
"Rachel looks to us a lot for help, because we were completely thrown into this," said Snider, 21, who held the school record for aces in a season before Steve Madsen broke it last year. "I'm actually the enforcer, they all know me for making them run."
This year's team isn't as dominating on the court as year's past but is talented enough to cause a lot of problems for opposing teams. The goal is to finish in the top three in the region and to go as deep into the state playoffs as possible, said Millette.
The players, many of whom played for her on the junior varsity level, have bought into her system.
"I know a couple of us try to help her out as much as possible," said co-captain Mark Holderness. "Her being a student, its' harder for her, so sometimes we have to run practice. We have to be able to step it up as well."
Once the team begins to block better and learns to channel its high energy level, Millette is confident that fans will soon forget about last year's team.
"They know what's expected of them," said Millette. "If they want to be good they should have the same expectations of them as I do."