Turning on the AC: Area girls' volleyball has example to follow in St. Monica Academy

We’re only a little past a month into the girls’ volleyball season and if you haven’t been checking out the action, quite a few highlights have been missed.

La Cañada High showed it’s a contender in the Rio Hondo League. The Spartans sit in a three-way tie for first place with San Marino and Monrovia after knocking off the defending champion Wildcats and last year’s runner-up South Pasadena. Only two seasons ago, the Spartans missed the playoffs entirely.

Burbank High opened with a 10-0 start to the season that included a victory over defending Pacific League champion Arcadia to open league play.

Burroughs is also in the hunt for a Pacific League crown after beating the crosstown Bulldogs, 3-0, on Thursday.

Holy Family has already surpassed its 2016 record of 7-18 by jumping out to a 9-6 mark. As for Horizon League play, the Gaels are a force at 3-1 a year after finishing 3-7.

Despite a 3-2 loss to Providence on Tuesday, Glendale Adventist is 10-2 and has eclipsed its eight-win total of last season.

As for the Pioneers, the CIF Southern Section Division VIII semifinalists have 10 victories and are 2-0 in league.

Maybe the biggest surprise has been tiny Burbank Lycee International School of Los Angeles.

The Lions, in only their third season in existence, are 6-1 in the International League and accomplished quite a feat in defeating St. Monica Academy, 3-1, last Wednesday.

The victory not only thrust LILA atop the International League ahead of the eight-time reigning champion Crusaders (10-4, 3-1), but snapped St. Monica’s incredible 71-match league winning streak.

According to the CIF Southern Section record book, that tied for the 10th-longest streak in section history with Arcadia.

LILA coach Leonardo Granato and his team entered the match unaware of the Crusaders’ streak. All they knew was that St. Monica had served as a prototype to equal and a roadblock to overcome the last few seasons.

Of course, LILA reminds me of a specific team: St. Monica.

While the Crusaders have established themselves as one of the area’s most successful programs, they don’t have a deep history.

St. Monica is only in its 10th season of organized volleyball and ninth year in the International League.

When Crusaders athletic director and coach Darren Bradley started the program a decade ago, he didn’t know what to expect, when his team would join a league and which league, and what success would be defined as.

Over that time, the Crusaders have posted an incredible 175-53-8 record and 89-2 mark in league play heading into Thursday with eight league titles and seven playoff appearances.

In the postseason, no area team has shined like St. Monica Academy as the team compiled a 17-8 record with four CIF Southern Section semifinal appearances, two state playoff qualifications, advancement to two Southern Section matches and a special 2015 CIF-SS Division X title.

While some people will point to St. Monica’s division (currently Division X) and competition as the reason behind the success, it’s also very easy to overlook St. Monica’s unique circumstances.

Much of this success has been accomplished in absolute obscurity and in some cases darkness, if you’ve ever been to the New Revelations Gym past 5 p.m.

The Crusaders have won quite a few of those matches in local Boys & Girls Clubs, in rundown gymnasiums from Pasadena to Eagle Rock to Glendale and often times with players who picked up their first volleyball at team summer tryouts.

Bradley has often been his team’s lone coach, which means he’s also been its only chauffeur, trainer, equipment manager and planner.

While St. Monica’s streak is over, the team deserves praise. In a season of up-and-comers and turnarounds, the stalwart finally lost a match.

Ten years ago, Bradley wasn’t sure what the future would hold for his new program.

Now small-school squads look at St. Monica as a model of success and consistency, even after a defeat.

Twitter @campadresports

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