Being the reigning CIF Champion, there is always pressure going into the next season. To be the reigning back-to-back CIF Champion is in a whole different category of pressue that simply cannot be described. For my boys not to let that pressure crack them, but expose their true character of what a Cathedral Phantom is, was simply astonishing.
We knew that if we wanted to return to the CIF title match to defend our championship, we would have to go through Bishop Montgomery, again, not only once, but three times since we are both in the same league. The first time around, we play at Bishop, where unfortunately a bad combination of us playing not so well and Bishop playing very well led to us losing in 4 sets. It hurt….it hurt alot; because it was a battle of the two top teams in the division. When the rankings came out the following week, we remained the top teams in our division but now, we were #2. The underlying story was that we were not ranked #1 in our division for the first time in almost 2 years! Fortunately, we still had the chance to face them one more time, at Cathedral.
It was not hard to think of Bishop when we still had to play La Salle in league, who was also the #3 team in our division. We were able to defeat La Salle, therefore setting up the rematch versus Bishop. Not only was this going to be the battle for a share of the league title, but a battle to see who may be the #1 team in the division heading into the playoffs. The feeling in the gym when we played Bishop the second time around was the same like the CIF finals (oddly enough, both teams had been there, done that). When everything was said and done, we came out victorious, winning in 3 sets.
So there we were, tied for 1st place, with Bishop as the #2 team in our division and Cathedral at #1. However…the flip of the coin was going to determine who would go in as the first place team out of our league (since we tied for 1st), which would also determine who would go in as the #1 team in the division. The call of the coin was on me. I called “heads”. I think that was the first time I won a coin flip on something that really mattered. And because of that, we were able to go into the playoffs as the #1 team in our division.
We were fortunate enough to have CIF Championship experience on our side. We actually had 5 athletes with 2 years of championship experience. That experience showed, as we played the first two rounds with poise. Going into the quarterfinals, we faced Yucaipa, a team we knew nothing about because they were out in the desert area. The luck of the draw would continue as we hosted our 3rd straight home match in the playoffs. We knew Yucaipa was going to be a true “David vs Goliath” battle. Normally, you wouldn’t say that when you have a team that is the reigning back-to-back CIF champion, but when you play a team that has an average height of about 6′ 5, you can’t help but to make that analogy. So here were, standing with an average height of 5′ 10 (and that is with our outliner athlete of 6′ 4) facing a team who easily averages 6′ 5.
However, once again, my boys didn’t falter. We faced our opponent with great poise and were able to defeat Yucaipa in 3 sets. It was not easy at all. Quite honestly, Yucaipa was a CIF-quality team, but we were able to move on to the semi-finals, where we would face St Margaret’s from San Juan Capistrano, and for the first time in the playoffs, we were playing away.
God works in mysterious ways-that is so true. He gives us daily challenges to see how we persevere; and a challenge God sure did give us to see how my boys would react to it. On our way to San Juan Capistrano, we had some van problems, on top of what seemed to be the worst day of traffic in the history of Southern California. Match time was scheduled to be at 7pm; we arrived at 6:35. My boys held their composure and did not let our adventure to to get to San Juan Capistrano distract them. We came out victorious, 3 sets to 1. CIF championship bound for the third year in a row.
As if the road to the CIF wasn’t tough enough, the very next day after playing St Margaret’s in the semi-finals, the seniors had their Senior Presentation that morning, only to have Grad Night at Disneyland later that day. I wasn’t going to let my seniors not enjoy this moment of their high school career pass them by, so they attended the event (I would drive them back in a separate school van a bit earlier so that they can get some decent rest. And no, no van trouble this time around). Friday then came around and most seniors were able to sleep in late from their Grad Nite festivities, but not my boys. We had practice before they were to attend their Baccalaureate Mass at the Cathedral of our Lady of Angels in downtown LA. They all attended, celebrating and thanking God of being able to graduate from Cathedral High School. The celebration couldn’t last too late into the evening as graduation was the following morning at 10am…the morning of the CIF finals.
Originally, our CIF finals match was scheduled at 11:30am, but since our graduation was that morning, CIF moved it to 4:30pm. As if attending your graduation wasn’t emotional enough, my boys had to refocus on their CIF match to be played only a couple of hours after graduation. I was worried that my seniors would be exausted from what had occurred the past 3+ days….they didn’t falter once. The seniors held their composure, played with great poise and class, and were able to come out victorious, 3 sets to 1….the cherry on the cake. BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK CIF CHAMPIONS!!!
In recent years, we have had much success, we have had other historical facts come about; we were the only Catholic High School to win CIF for the 2nd year in a row, and for the first time in our volleyball program history, one of our own (Alex Albarran) won the CIF Player of the Year award for Division 4. More proudly, the only team sport at Cathedral to not only win CIF in two straight years, but also in three straight years.
Winning CIF is an accomplishment that a student-athlete dreams about – but the underlying story of all this is not only about winning CIF, but being to able to come together as a team and presevere over anything life throws at you along the way. In the past three years that we have won CIF, my student-athletes have gone through major family problems, cancer-fighting moms, and one of my coach’s nearly dying from brain trauma. And even with all that going on and winning CIF, my boys have remained true, humble gentlemen at school, maintained an excellent academic standing and active members of the school community outside of volleyball…a true epitome of what it is to be a Cathedral Phantom.
As a coach, I have been blessed to have a supportive faculty and staff at Cathedral; very supportive volleyball parents, but most importantl, and often overlooked, a great, supportive coaching staff. I am fortunate that not only are they my coaching staff, but my very good friends.
As for my student-athletes, both current and past; thanks for being great human beings. It is mine and my coaching staff’s philosophy that we not only create competive volleyball players, but young men that will contribute to society positively. Hopefully, we have not let them down.