Sandy Blumenthal has coached volleyball at La Habra High School for 16 years.
Make that successfully coached volleyball.
The Highlanders have qualified for the Southern Section playoffs 11 straight years, with seven league championships, including five straight between 1981-85. They have been to the Southern Section finals twice, and to the semifinals and quarterfinals too many times for their coach to recall. But they have never won the championship.
"We've been close so many times," Blumenthal said. "It gets a little frustrating."
La Habra is close again. The Highlanders (15-1) are seeded third in the 3-A playoffs and play Los Altos in the quarterfinals Thursday. Their only loss has been to Esperanza, which has reached the 4-A quarterfinals.
Blumenthal thinks this could be her team's year, but she has had teams she thought could win the championship before.
"In 1980, I felt we had the best team physically, but we didn't even get to the finals," she said. "The next year we had one of our weakest teams and we made the finals. It takes more than just talent. You have to want it."
Blumenthal, a graduate of Cal State Long Beach, brought the program into prominence with the idea of "wanting it."
She started coaching at La Habra in 1970, when sports in the Girls Athletic Assn. were often more social than competitive. With the advent of Title IX in 1972, girls' athletics became more competitive.
Except at La Habra.
"We were still playing like it was GAA--recreation not competition," Blumenthal said. "Other teams were having longer seasons by reaching the playoffs. We wanted to extend our season, so the playoffs became the goal."
In 1977, La Habra made its first trip to the playoffs, and it hasn't missed since.
From there, the goals have escalated.
Between 1980-84 merely making the playoffs wasn't enough, the Highlanders had to be league champions. Then it became undefeated league champions, as La Habra won 50 consecutive Freeway League matches.
The streak was ended by Sunny Hills in the 1985 league opener.
"We got a little arrogant, not a lot, but a little," Blumenthal said. "We just felt that every time we went out, we were going to win. Sunny Hills took a little of that cockiness away."
The Highlanders' league championship string also ended in 1985, as they finished one game behind Sonora.
"I think we were the best team in the league that year, we just didn't realize it," Blumenthal said. "We lost our first two league games and then won eight straight."
Still, the Highlanders reached the 3-A final in 1985, losing to Rim of the World, one of the state's best teams.
"It just proved that the competition was getting better in the Freeway League," Blumenthal said. "We might have had something to do with that. During the streak, everyone was getting pumped up to beat us."
It took the Highlanders two years to reclaim the title, but they did it with ease this season. They finished 10-0 in league play, sweeping every team except Troy, which extended one match to four games.
La Habra played the first month of the season without senior Robin Seabrook, the Freeway League's co-player of the year in 1986. In a freak accident in July, a mirror fell on her ankle, requiring 30 stitches.
"In one way, we benefited from Robin's injury," Blumenthal said. "The year before, the entire offense was built around Robin. If we had 35 kills, she had 30 of them. With her out, the other players had to get the job done."
When Seabrook returned, the Highlanders were less dependent on her and more versatile.
"This is the best team we've had," Blumenthal said. "We really don't have a weakness."
Enough to win the 3-A title?
"Well, I still don't know if we want it," she said. "You never really know."