It all started with a yellow index card: Win CIF

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Image used with permission from Zachary Tan

The Sunny Hills boys volleyball team wins the Division 5 CIF-SS championship title May 14 after sweeping Carpinteria High School 3-0 at Long Beach City College.

Henry Lee

I remember writing down my personal and team goals on a yellow index card four months ago in January before practice as instructed by my volleyball coach – something we had never done before.

I wrote, “Win CIF.”

Three months later in April in the middle of our boys volleyball season, at the end of one of our practices, head coach Albert Soliguen – in his second year guiding our varsity squad – handed out what each person wrote on that index card to me and my teammates who were standing in a circle. We were told to pass that card to the next person after reading it.

Without any prompting from Soliguen, we recognized that we all had the same thing in mind, which was to be the first volleyball team at Sunny Hills to hoist a CIF-SS, Division 5 plaque.

In the back of our minds, we all knew it was within reach. We had three starters who were part of last year’s team that went undefeated in the Freeway League but lost in the second round of CIF. 

On top of that, the fact that many of my current teammates participated in club volleyball brought us a step closer to achieving our goal because I knew that experience gained outside of school practices would advance their skills.

But winning a championship is easier said than done. We never went into a playoff game feeling overly confident that we could win. Rather than underestimating our opponents, we decided to just play our disciplined volleyball game — what we do best.

We started practicing in January at the outdoor court next to the tennis courts for around twice a week until the beginning of March when we were allowed to go back into the gym.

From then on, we had tournaments on the weekends and practice Monday-Friday until Freeway League season started, which meant games were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even then, we never stopped practicing.

We canceled hangout plans with friends, lost time to finish our homework and sacrificed much of our time to put in the work required for a championship win.

This dedication really drained us of our blood, sweat and tears, literally and figuratively. Our bodies would be sore after practices from constantly diving on the floor to get the ball up.

After the countless hours of dedication from each and every single one of my 15 teammates at practices, we grasped for the one dream that didn’t feel so out of reach anymore. 

I vividly remember that second the ball touched the ground in the third set of the championship match against Carpinteria High School on May 14 at Long Beach City College; my heart was beating rapidly as I stood looking at the court — time had stopped. 

I rushed to my other teammates, and we began celebrating on the court. With tears in my eyes as I jumped, yelled and laughed, a sigh of relief raced through my body as I was filled with exhilaration — I experienced it all in that moment.

Winning back-to-back Freeway League titles and remaining undefeated these past two years, we swept the entire CIF-SS Division 5 bracket by defeating teams 3-0.

My team’s dream came true, and it was only possible because of the six months of countless drills, daily warm-up stretches, sets of running line touches and the constant thought of “will this all be worth it.” It didn’t feel real until I felt the cold, wooden plaque in my hand, engraved with the gold-plated word, “champions,” on the top. 

After all of our effort, this program that only had two official seasons, excluding the very first year in 2019 when the team’s season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has made history.

I still find it hard to believe that a newborn program managed to win a CIF-SS title, but after reflecting on this past year and the sacrifices we made, I can proudly say that my team truly worked hard for this.

Even though we fell short during the second round of the CIF-SS Division 3 SoCal Championship Tournament, I am still proud of how far we have come.

Regardless, this is a historic moment for our program and something no other has possibly ever done.

With Coach Soliguen leading the team again next year, we will be back stronger than before. His knowledge and expertise in coaching will be effective as it has proved to be this year, especially with all the time he spends thinking of situational drills the team needs to work on. 

Tradition starts here and will continue the legacies that alumni leave behind. I am glad to have been a part of this journey, and I look forward to my last year playing in the 2022-2023 season.