More than a year before the start of the 2023 volleyball season, Mater Dei volleyball coach Dan O’Dell felt that with one more year of maturity, the young Monarchs would be good enough to win a state championship.
THE MATER DEI VOLLEYBALL TEAM POSES WITH THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY AFTER DEFEATING ARCHBISHOP MITTY IN FOUR SETS IN THE CIF STATE OPEN DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP NOV. 18 AT SANTIAGO CANYON COMMUNITY COLLEGE. THE STATE VOLLEYBALL TITLE IS THE SECOND IN SCHOOL HISTORY. PHOTO BY CALEB BROWN
O’Dell’s forecast was spot on.
The Monarchs defeated Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in four sets to win the CIF State Open Division Championship on Nov. 18 at Santiago Canyon College.
Mater Dei finished the season with a 43-2 record and ranked No.1 in the nation and the state by MaxPreps.com.
The Monarchs proved they were worthy of those rankings by defeating some of the top teams in the nation during the regular season and then dominating teams in the elite Open Division on the path to the second state championship in school history.
“I had this year circled on the calendar,” said O’Dell, who has guided the Monarchs to seven consecutive appearances in the CIF Southern Section finals, winning the title four times. “You know they’re capable of it, but to be able to do it against the teams we had to play to get here is just absolutely amazing. I can’t credit them enough for their ability to stay focused for so many matches in a row and to go out there and win that many in a row. It’s really hard to do and I’m just in awe by what they did.”
The Monarchs also captured the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title without losing a set throughout their playoff run.
Mater Dei lost only three sets in eight Trinity League matches and rode15-game league winning streak into the playoffs. But talent alone isn’t always enough to win championships.
The camaraderie on the team was also a huge factor, said outside hitter Isabel Clark, who led the team in kills.
“When you’re playing with your best friends and people you enjoy playing with and there’s no drama, then how the team plays is basically how your friendship is with them,” said Clark, who has committed to play at the University of San Diego. “How you’re playing is because they’re your best friends and everything flows easily.”
Another intangible thing that can be the difference between a good team and a great team is the ability to handle adversity.
Mater Dei had to battle from behind to win some key matches, including the State Regional semifinal against Huntington Beach, when the Monarchs trailed 2-1 before coming back to win the next two sets to clinch the match.
In the state championship match against Archbishop Mitty, the Monarchs were ahead 2-1 and had a 19-10 lead in the fourth set when Mitty went on a 9-1 run to get to within a point.
But the Monarchs never panicked and went on a run of their own to close out the set and the match.
“I’ve said it from the beginning of the year,” senior libero Malyssa Cawa said, “this team is probably one of the grittiest teams that I’ve played on. Whenever we face adversity or whenever our backs are pushed up against the wall, everyone finds their own way to step up and help out.”
Cawa, who led the Monarchs in digs, has committed to play at Stanford in the fall and seniors Julia Kakkis and Cymarah Gordon have committed to play at Brown and Michigan respectively.
The Monarchs came into the match 1-3 in state championship games, winning their last state championship in 2018.
“I’m always most thankful that the girls get to experience this,” O’Dell said. “To me, it’s satisfying. It’s great. But for these girls to be state champs and national champs … I think we were close the last three times and we could never quite go over the edge, but it just seemed like with one more year of maturity, this group was capable of something very special.”