Senior Spotlight: Sniffen back on the beach as she prepares for college
Senior Spotlight is a special series highlighting standout MIL student-athletes in fall and winter sports as they reflect upon their high school careers and look toward the future. Stories will run periodically in The Maui News.
Mileina Sniffen is a pioneer for Haleakala Waldorf School.
The senior volleyball player plans to walk on to the indoor and beach teams at Colorado Mesa University and would be a rare collegiate athlete from the tiny Upcountry private school.
She is currently back on the beach, where her volleyball career began as a fourth grader, training with Aloha Volleyball Association coach Scott Zucco.
“I’m out there with coach Scottie, to keep myself in the game, and focus on my goal for college,” Sniffen said, adding that CMU does “have an indoor team and I plan on trying out there as well.”
She and four other seniors — a group that has been together since the sixth grade — are hopeful to play together one last time in a one-day tournament at Maui Preparatory Academy in April.
“Oh my gosh, that would mean a lot to us since most of our team right now is the senior class … most are seniors and it would be a really nice last hurrah for us,” Sniffen said. “Playing with them again, it would mean the world just one last time with them, it would be great.”
The Maui Interscholastic League announced the cancellation of fall and winter sports seasons last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we found out that our season was canceled, it was tough,” Sniffen said. “Before that me and the girls on my team, we would play volleyball during lunch just to make sure we were still in the rhythm. Our school has a net set up, so we would just like play outside. Of course, keeping our distance, but just keep ourselves hopeful for the season.
“Still at the moment, we are still just playing together. Even with our small school, just playing volleyball and other sports even though we don’t have them anymore. We are still, like, being hopeful.”
The lunch-time pepper sessions are soothing times for Sniffen.
“Sometimes when it’s just us, it’s like we’re having those practices again, and we’re out on the court competing, for fun, against each other,” she said. “It’s great.”
The 5-foot-2 all-around player has grown up behind the volleyball net, which is a family affair. Her father, Scott Sniffen, is the Hawks’ head coach and older sister Miachelli Sniffen is an assistant coach.
If the MPA club tournament happens, it would be a special way to cap her career in high school for the family.
“I know it would mean a lot to him and me as well,” Mileina Sniffen said of her father. “He’s been the coach for most of the girls on our team since sixth grade, I’m pretty sure all of the girls on our team. My dad was our coach and to have one more day with him coaching us, one more day to just reminisce all of the memories we’ve had with him and really appreciate his work that he’s had with us, that would be special.”
Scott Sniffen will miss his youngest daughter when she leaves for college.
“Coaching Mileina, her and I have a great relationship,” he said. “The relationship, the father side, always is the utmost and shows all the love. However, it was fortunate for me to have that balance between coaching and being the dad. I think that was one of the most hardest pieces out of all, but she listens well — she listens as if I’m not her dad, like her coach.
“She always knew where that balance and that line was. Of course when you get those two things, that’s the greatest thing, right, between a father and daughter. I enjoyed it. She grew so much over all these years.”
Mileina Sniffen currently has a 3.95 cumulative grade-point average and is leaning toward a physical therapy/kinesiology path in college.
“I definitely see a college volleyball future for her, especially beach volleyball where height is not much of a limiting factor as it is indoor,” Zucco said. “For example, a lot of the strong coaches for beach tend to recruit ball control instead of height and it won’t limit you.”
The smarts also help with the beach game, according to Zucco.
“There’s a lot of precedent out there, where if a coach gives you a chance, especially in beach, you can really do some damage,” Zucco said. “It has very little to do with your height because there are so many skills you have to master. The hitting part, yeah, but there’s also serving, passing, setting, defense and then just game IQ. So, you can really fill in what you lack in height with talent, with ball control, with IQ and just pattern recognition.
“She’s like a beach kid playing indoor who can play anywhere, whatever the team needed.”
The beach game has taken the forefront for the player who has played outside hitter, libero and setter in the indoor high school game. She was selected by the MIL coaches as a first-team Division II All-Star every year she played for the Hawks.
“Since I’ve gotten back out on the beach, it kind of like has a special place in my heart since that’s where I started volleyball,” she said. “I started on the beach and I love it there. I still love indoor, but I think beach is where my heart is set.”
Playing the sport at all is a big relief mentally for Sniffen. She is part of a small group that works out twice a week with Zucco at Kanaha Beach Park.
“During COVID lockdown I was just in my room hitting the ball against the wall, like, ‘When can I get back out there again?’ “ she said. “Once I got back out there after the break it was just so … I don’t know, my heart just felt so warm and seeing the other people and their smiles, it was like, ‘Yes, we’re playing volleyball again.’ “
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com