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No longer a challenger, Romeo strives to repeat as Class A champions

By: Jeff Dullack, September 22, 2015, 8:29 pm



Romeo – Romeo won its first volleyball state championship last season and the Bulldogs are back looking for similar success.

A team with several returners from the state championship team that needed five sets to outlast Novi in the championship match, including Miss Volleyball candidate Gia Milana, the Bulldogs are motivated to have another stellar season.

Romeo coach Stacy Williams said that her team has lofty goals this fall and said that the key to success is their defense, something they continue to work on throughout the season.

“We have big goals and we want to go after things, but we know that in order to do it, it’s only going to come through hard work,” she said. “We know that defense is our number one goal right now. That’s what we’re working on and we work on it day in and day out and that’s what’s going to be the key to our success this season.”

Among key returners for Romeo this fall are Jodie Kelly, Erica Labaere, Payton Klein and Nicole Nowack as well as a handful of others, including Milana.

But with last year’s success, Romeo finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Instead of chasing its first title, the Bulldogs have a target on their back as the other Class A contenders look to unseat them.

Milana said that after winning the state championship, the 2015 season has a different feel to it, knowing that instead of being the underdog, Romeo is now the favorite that teams are aiming to beat each and every match.

“It’s really different, because it’s usually the other way around and we’re the underdogs,” she said. “This year it’s a struggle in practice for everyone to keep working hard because last year we did win states. But we did win states and now we have to work harder for it because we know teams are going to come back at us. We’re working hard as a team and I’m really proud of my team, because we’re pushing through it and it can be really hard mentally, but we’re doing a good job.”

Entering her senior season for Romeo, Milana is considered the favorite to win the Miss Volleyball Award. She committed Maryland the summer after her sophomore season.

Milana, an outside-hitter who has 312 kills through 25 matches and has helped lead the Bulldogs to a 21-4 record, said that she believes her defense is an underrated part of her game.

“Usually people will look at volleyball and only see the hitters and they don’t ever see the defense part of it or serve-receive,” she said. “But defense and serve-receive are really important, especially if you want to get recruited to a top college. They’re looking for an all-around player with defense, reading where the hitter is going to hit, blocking, it’s the whole aspect. People say ‘oh yeah, she’s a good hitter, but there’s many other things that go into it too.”

Williams noted that to have a high-caliber player like Milana is great for her team, but added that the star senior is a great leader for the Bulldogs and has a team-first mentality.

“Gia is a special player and it’s not just because of her talent, but because of her desire and her passion for playing the game at the highest level she possibly can,” she said. “She wants to win games and she’s willing to do whatever it takes and whatever her team needs her to do. Sometimes she thinks she has to do too much, because she wants to do so much for her team all the time.”

While Milana hears her name attached to potentially being the Miss Volleyball Award winner and mentioned as one of the top players in Michigan, she doesn’t pay much attention to the noise, because more than anything she’s focused on her team and the season at hand for Romeo.

“I hear it sometimes, but I never really think about it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s about me, I’m not playing high school for me. It’s for the team, Romeo. I’m trying to make their season the best it can be."