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Monsoor's methods rejuvenate Los Alamitos girls' volleyball team

November 26, 2002|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Say what you want about how they pulled it off, the Los Alamitos High girls' volleyball team is the Southern Section Division I-AA champion.

Which means the techniques employed by Coach Sue Monsoor will probably be described as "dynamic" or "cutting edge" -- as opposed to "different" or "strange."

Monsoor officially became smarter than most when Los Alamitos upset No. 1-ranked Long Beach Wilson, a team it had twice lost to earlier in the season, in the title match Saturday at Cypress College. Tonight, the Griffins (29-7) open the state playoffs by playing host to Carlsbad La Costa Canyon (30-2) at 7 p.m.

So chalk one up for underwater drills as conditioning exercises and weekly team meals for bonding. And for find-your-inner-self meditation classes in yoga, an idea Monsoor adopted after a family vacation on Kauai.

The third-year coach even hired a personal trainer to help develop her players in body and mind.

Monsoor's approach apparently was exactly what 15 skilled, highly trained but somewhat bored teen-age girls from six club teams needed to mold into an effective unit.

"We have all been playing volleyball so long, so many years," senior defensive specialist Laura Kroneberger said. "We've done the drills over and over. This was new stuff and we liked it because it was so different."

Perhaps even more important, Monsoor, 47, sold her players on the idea that winning in high school is just as important as it is for elite club teams.

"High school is the time to be with peers that they go to school with every day," Monsoor said.

"It's a meld with friends they hang with. This is an important time in their lives."

Monsoor never planned on being a high school volleyball coach. She was born in Canada but grew up in Long Beach, where she was an outside hitter in volleyball and teammate of the late Flo Hyman on a club team.

After moving with her parents to England in 1972, Monsoor returned a year later and graduated from Long Beach Wilson High. But her skills got rusty during the time away and for most of the next 20 years she rarely touched a volleyball.

Volleyball crept back into Monsoor's life at the church elementary school where her two children, Rachel and Kevin, were enrolled.

"As a parent, you had to do yard duty," she said. Monsoor played volleyball with the kids, eventually became the school's coach, and won several parochial league titles.

In the early 1990s, she coached several club teams.

When Rachel enrolled at Los Alamitos in 1997, Monsoor intended to be nothing more than a supportive mother. But a year later, when the frosh-soph team needed a coach, she stepped in.

"I was just going to help," she recalled.

But Monsoor could see that the program needed an overhaul.

"There was no continuity between the different levels before I came on board," she said. "They were entities unto themselves. No one knew what was going on at other levels. Nobody helped anyone else."

Taking the varsity job three years ago, Monsoor began to experiment with new ideas.

During the summer, the team trained in the pool with the Griffin boys' water polo team, and they met regularly with a personal trainer for workouts designed to help them learn to trust each other and improve their self-esteem. They worked on controlling their emotions in pressure situations and performing well in tense moments.

They developed team mantras such as "Steer the Ship" and wore tiny heart pins on their lapels. As funny as it seems, several players said, they began to believe that the amount of heart they put into their actions would decide whether their ship would come in.

Los Alamitos won Sunset League titles in 1991-93 -- and a state championship in '93 -- but had slipped significantly until advancing to the section semifinals a year ago. This season, all three levels swept to league titles. And on Saturday, that ship docked.

"At first, we really thought that what [Monsoor was having us do] was funny," senior outside-hitter Hailey Hartong said. "But after a while of doing it we all realized that we had gained mental focus in pressure situations that helped in long rallies and playing in front of big crowds."

That helped in the Division I-AA championship match and should serve the Griffins well in the state playoffs.

"Four to five years ago we had the talent here, but they didn't have the ability to get the job done," Monsoor said.

"There's a calming now. We're getting where we need to be."

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