Mesa boys volleyball coach Tony Millanes remembers the first time he saw J.T. Hatch.
“When he first walked in, he was this little, skinny, typical freshman kid. I was like ‘Oh, this kid can’t be that good,’ ” Millanes said. “Then, all of the sudden, we start playing some volleyball, and he’s just phenomenal.”
Hatch certainly ended his career as a Jackrabbit in a phenomenal fashion. He was first in the state in kills with 533 and third in aces with 74, and he also tallied 231 digs.
His individual brilliance weren’t enough to avoid disappointing endings to his junior and senior seasons. The school’s volleyball squad lost to Highland in the state semifinals in 2013, and this year’s Jackrabbits team fell to Boulder Creek in the state championship game.
“We had a good run, but in the end, it’s not really about winning, I just look back at the time I spent with my team,” Hatch said. “After a couple weeks, it didn’t hurt that much anymore.”
It is something Ahwatukee area teams know a little something about as Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista couldn’t make it past the second round. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t individual success as Mountain Pointe’s Christian Cava earned All-Tribune Honorable Mention status.
While Hatch won’t overstate his accomplishments, Millanes can’t help but gush.
“He is fundamentally the most sound kid I’ve ever seen,” he said. “He honestly has no weakness.”
Hatch does have one deficiency that could cause problems at the collegiate level: an absence of elite height. His 6-foot-3 stature puts him well above the height of the average person, but it’s at least 3 inches shorter than the higher-level volleyball players.
What he lacks in stature, however, is compensated by a tireless work ethic and endless drive to improve.
“He’s a kid who is always taking pride in his game and always trying to improve. Even in the littlest facets, he’s just trying to do something to make himself at a higher level than everybody around him,” Millanes said.
Several schools pursued Hatch but none could match what the UCLA Bruins could offer.
“UCLA is by far the best school you can go to for volleyball,” he said. “It’s just a top program, top coaches, just an elite group of guys that are going to be there.”
Getting an athletic scholarship is impressive in and of itself, but Millanes sees Hatch going even further, much further.
“He’s got so many intangibles that other kids don’t have,” he said. “He has the hardest swing I’ve ever seen in volleyball, so he’s got things I think are going to help him immensely in college, and I honestly think he’s got a good shot to play, somewhere down the road, for our Olympic team.”