Notre Dame High girls' volleyball players were back at work.
Sure, they had been swept away the previous night by powerhouse Harvard-Westlake. But they've been through worse--like a 1-15 season in 1994, an ordeal that places a single loss in its proper perspective.
With a new coach and a new attitude, the only leftover at their practice a day after the Harvard-Westlake match was dye residue--blue and gold, the school colors--in their hair.
"We're planning to go out and beat Harvard-Westlake next time," said Kellie Hallinan, a senior outside hitter who has helped the Knights to an 8-1 record, 2-1 in Mission League play. "We know how they play and we know we can beat them."
Hers are words that could not have been spoken--at least not with a straight face--last season, which began with a victory but ended with 15 losses.
"It got to the point where [losing] didn't affect you anymore and that's bad," junior setter Hilda Osmanian said. "You'd go play and lose, play and lose. It drained you."
The Knights now drain other teams.
Notre Dame won the 15-team Ventura tournament and in its league opener swept traditionally strong Louisville.
The Knights' turnaround starts with first-year Coach Shaney Fink.
A former player at California and an All-City Section performer at University High, Fink left a post as an assistant for the Colgate women's team to move back to the West Coast.
Fink was hired to coach the Notre Dame boys' team and subsequently was asked to guide the girls' team.
Using an old lineup--one basically the same as last season--Notre Dame has newfound success.
"They just decided they're really tired of losing," Fink said. "It's a real tribute to their character."
An unusual summer workout routine formed the first building block.
Notre Dame players didn't sleep with volleyballs at their bedside. Nor did they run six miles a day. Instead, they improved their jumping using plyometrics, leaping over cones and blocks and in and out of squares.
"It made our players more explosive, which may have something to do with how hard we're hitting the ball right now," Fink said.
Fink's favorite word is ' "banzai!" and her players have picked up on it.
"Shaney talks so recklessly about going out there and doing it that we just have to do it," Osmanian said. "We go crazy. Seriously. When you see us at our best, we're doing something we're not used to doing. And it feels natural."
Under former Coach Ann McClung, who guided the Knights to league titles in 1990 and 1991, the team's philosophy was more cautious, paying particular attention to accurate serving and proper passing.
"Shaney's [philosophy] is more like go out and rip it and we'll fix it later," Osmanian said.
There's not much to fix on the well-balanced Knights.
Osmanian, Hallinan, Kathryn Martin, Cheyenne Ellis and Briana Hadfield have taken turns leading the team in kills and digs.
An Oct. 24 rematch with Harvard-Westlake, which might have the area's best team, looms large.
"We let the whole hype about Harvard make us timid and we played really small on the court," Osmanian said. "We now know to just go out there and be loose."
After last season, they have little to lose.