The athletic program at Pater Noster High has been struggling since the all-boys' school opened in 1960.
Championships have been so rare that administrators and athletes are hard-pressed to recall the last time the Eagles won a title.
So it is with a great deal of pride that the Santa Fe League champion Pater Noster volleyball team will take the court today at Cypress Park for its Southern Section 2-A Division first-round playoff match against St. Margaret's.
Under second-year Coach Art Camarillo, fourth-ranked Pater Noster compiled an 18-2 record during the regular season and won its first Santa Fe League championship with a 7-1 mark.
The volleyball program, in only its third year, is helping to raise the pride of the school's 228 students.
"Because the program is so new, there were no (losing) traditions to break or deal with," said Athletic Director Alex Medina, who is an assistant volleyball coach. "There is all kinds of school pride, you can see it during the school announcements that are made every morning.
"I think it sets the tone for the other sports to follow."
Pater Noster, which Medina said sends 99% of its graduates to four-year colleges, is led by senior middle blocker Arnold Dichosa and sophomores hitters Ricky Flores and Ralph Vega. The mix of upper and lower classmen on the 12-man roster is designed to ensure that the Eagles will have an experienced core of players each season.
"In the beginning, we said we had to show other schools that we could do it, that we were good," Flores said. "A lot of people said we couldn't win the league this year, but we did. We proved a lot of people wrong."
Camarillo, 49, is the person who has provided Pater Noster with the equation for success. When he joined the Eagles last season, Camarillo brought more than 20 years of coaching experience at the United States Volleyball Assn. club level.
Pater Noster finished second in league play during the program's first year in 1989 after which Medina offered to hand over the head coaching duties to Camarillo.
"The kids were very talented athletes," Camarillo said. "They just needed some sharpening of their skills."
Last season, Pater Noster again finished second in league play and lost to Flintridge Prep in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
"The difference between last year and this year is confidence," Camarillo said. "This year, they're defeating the weaker teams like we should and they're playing well against the better teams."
Indeed, Pater Noster posted nonleague victories over teams such as Pasadena Poly and Flintridge Prep, both of which the Eagles had never beaten.
The victory over playoff nemesis Flintridge Prep, in particular, helped the Eagles build momentum going into league play.
Pater Noster's only defeat in league play came in a five-game match against Cantwell. The Eagles, who had never been ranked in the Southern Section poll, spent most of the season at No. 6 or higher.
"A lot of people at school are coming up to me and saying, 'How does it feel to have a league (championship) patch on your jacket?' " said Vega, who also plays football. "I told them, 'It feels great. I want to get some more.' "
Medina said the rest of the Pater Noster athletic program is already feeling the effects of the success.
"We have 47 kids signed up for varsity football next year and 46 for JV, so things are moving forward," Medina said. "I think we're growing. We don't want to get away from our emphasis on academics, but in years to come, we'll be one of the powerhouses all the way around."
Members of the volleyball team plan to do their part.
To win a Southern Section championship, the Eagles will have to prove they can play with teams such as top-ranked Whittier Christian, Calvary Chapel and Cate.
The players say they are up to the task.
"I think they're underestimating us," Vega said. "We're ready to go play and show them that we can do it."