Loyola High School of Los Angeles suffered about as crushing of a defeat as crushing defeats go.
Loyola, a perennial California and national boys high school power under the direction of coach Michael Boehle, dropped a three-set match to Corona del Mar in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 final.
But even though Loyola lost that match, it still had some mileage left on its 2017 tires in the form of playing in the CIF Southern California Regional Division I tournament.
And who did the Cubs end up facing and beating for the regional title? You guessed it. Corona del Mar, their rival from Newport Beach.
It was Loyola’s fourth regional title (The best comparison outside of California would be to a traditional state title). For its accomplishments this season, the 30-2 Cubs are the 2017 VolleyballMag.com boys high school team of the year.
When the bracket for the regional came out, Loyola’s eyebrows were raised upon seeing potential match-ups with not only CdM but Oak Park, the only other team to beat Loyola this season. Loyola ended up beating CdM twice in 2017 and owns a 13-4 advantage since the schools began playing each year nine years ago.
“That was a tough loss,” Loyola senior hitter JP Reilly (Stanford) said of the Southern Section final. “We found motivation once those regional brackets came out and we saw we were on the same side with Oak Park and CdM, the two teams that had beaten us. It almost was like everything was aligned for us.”
Reilly harkens back to something Boehle preaches to his players that not only was applicable early in the season, but especially during the CIF postseason.
“He tells us the meaning of potential is you haven’t done anything. He said it in a slightly different way to us,” Reilly said with a laughs. “We had a lot of players coming back from last year, we basically were seniors with a lot of experience. But it wasn’t until we lost that first match to Oak Park at the Best of the West that we realized all the other teams are doing the same thing as us.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of seniors with experience. Oak Park beat us because they played better than us. It was a reality check. We put our heads down and got back to work.”
And then Loyola ran into CdM for a second time.
“We had played an amazing semifinal match and then we had one of our worst matches in the finals,” Reilly said. “Some nights are not your night. That second match against CdM was not our night. Two of our three sets in the final against CdM went extra points, so if we even played decent we would have been right there. When we got the regional we beat Buchanan, Oak Park and CdM without dropping a set. That loss to CdM lit a fire under our bellies.”
Boehle figured his team would be ready for the rubber match against CdM.
“We knew if we got another chance at them it could be a different story,” he said. “Give CdM credit. I admire their coach (Steve Conti) and their program. We started playing them nine years ago. They are competitive matches. It’s a rivalry that has stated to get bigger. They came to play in the CIF (Southern Section final) and a week later we were able to win.”
Senior outside hitter and Penn State-signee Will Bantle echoed Reilly’s sentiments about seeing how the So. Cal Regional bracket could play out.
“We were pretty discouraged after losing to CdM,” he said. “With the state tournament, we could have moseyed through it. Instead, we came out looking for redemption against the teams we lost to. We were super-prepared and I think that gave us a mental edge. It couldn’t have worked out any better, I don’t think.”
In addition to the four regional titles, Loyola has six section titles to its credit under Boehle’s direction. The Cubs have played in eight of the last nine what is now known as the So. Cal Regional finals.
“One, we had experience,” Bantle said. “Every kid on the team is super close. Everybody understood their role and had a great time doing it. At the end we bonded and came together and figured it out. We found our place.”
Bantle heaps plenty of praise upon Boehle for building and maintaining a sustained national boys high-school volleyball juggernaut.
“A lot of it is because they keep the kids together at each grade,” he said. “You rarely see a freshman moved up to varsity. You stay with the guys you are used to playing with. It also has to do with the amount of talent that comes through here on a yearly basis. And coach Boehle is behind it all. He’s been there a long time and has a plan.”
Boehle pointed out Loyola had five Division I signees on its roster this year (6-9 middle Ian Parish is headed to UCLA, while right side Brady Wedbush is going to Princeton and libero Louis Murray also is Penn State bound), but stressed the team did not rest on the fact it had that amount of talent returning from last year’s championship team, including what he termed “great middles, three great pins, a setter who can put the ball where it needs to be and four liberos who could play on any high-school team.”
“We had to make sure everybody was buying into our philosophy and they did. They all worked real hard,” he said. “They had one thing on their mind and they did it. It goes back to that old cliche of you are only as good as your last match. After we lost to CdM we saw the brackets and who was on our side and they went after it and got it done.”