The topic of discussion at the end of the high school season revolves around one question, "Which team deserves the moniker of ESPN RISE National Champion?
The three part series Who will be No. 1? debated each team's argument for the spot atop the rankings and the title, ESPN RISE National Champion. Many teams had exceptional seasons, but three have legitimate claims to the title: current ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 1 Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), No. 2 La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) and No. 3 Mercy Academy (Louisville, Ky.).
The Monarchs of Archbishop Mitty finished on top of the late season rankings for a reason: they were the best team at the end of the season and thus crowned the 2008 ESPN RISE National Champions.
The Monarchs went through a metamorphosis this season, as the uncertain group grew into forceful unit. The united team shared a goal that would culminate in a championship, but the goal was not "winning."The goal was, as CIF State Championships MVP Rachel Williams states, "To get better for each other."
The team's commitment to improve "for each other" was evident each time it stepped on the floor. Throughout the season the team matured, progressed and developed into a national champion.
Mitty headed into the CIF Div. II State Championships as No. 1 team in the FAB 50, a spot it occupied for the previous five weeks. The team that took the floor at the Bren Events Center at UC Irvine was not the same team that No. 2 La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) defeated at the Durango Classic.
High school coaches who played the Monarchs more than once this season also took notice. The general consensus among coaches was, "They were a good team to start the season, but the second time we played them, they were way better."
College coaches took notice as well. Coaches from the Big West, Pac10 and the WCC who watched the CIF State Championships commented, "Archbishop Mitty is fantastic," and "It is a very recruitable team."
A majority of coaches remarked, when pressed, "If I had to choose, which team would win head to head right now, it would be Mitty."
Although college coaches have a watchful eye on "recruitable" athletes, the team concept and genial camaraderie was at the root of Mitty's success.
Coach Bret Almazan-Cezar has said all year, "This team enjoys hanging out together. They generally like being around each other."
Williams confirmed Almazan-Cezar's sentiments, "This is, by far, my favorite team, high school or club!"
Mitty libero Morgan O'Neil, who frustrated hitters like no other player, was asked about the defensive tenacity she displayed throughout the Monarchs' championship run.
"It's so much fun for me, I love it!" she said with a grin.
Anyone who watched O'Neil play can tell she truly enjoys her job, a prerequisite for a libero. However, O'Neil attributed her success at the position to her teammates.
"I couldn't do it, if I didn't go to practice every day with Rachel [Williams] and Kristina [Graven]." She continued, "They make me better and if I can frustrate them at practice, I can make them better too."
Almazan-Cezar all but claimed this team as his favorite, something he would never say to any of his countless players or teams he has coached, including the Mitty team that featured Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Walsh.
In the moments after the state championship, he said with a tearful eye, "We will miss this group dearly."
Coaches across the country work tirelessly to develop a team that displays the selflessness and pride the Mitty athletes embody. Athletes who play for Archbishop Mitty feel that playing for their team is special.
"It's an honor," remarked Williams, a sentiment shared by the whole team.
As her teammates nodded in agreement, Williams went on, "It's our job to represent."
The Monarchs more than represented, they embodied all things good about high school sports this past season: sacrifice, camaraderie, fun, and, most of all, teamů in the best sense of the word.
Congratulations to the 2008 ESPN RISE Volleyball National Champions.