Pavel Dzemianok / For the Boston Globe
A few weeks before school started at Boston English High this fall, a group of incoming freshmen girls made their way through their school’s new gymnasium during volleyball practice.
“Our volleyball team is the best,” school registrar Maria Colon-Brown boasted while leading the tour group. “This is our third time as city champs so we have one of the best teams with one of the best coaches in the city.”
“And we have fun,” coach Hardy Mondesier added in a gentle recruiting effort.
But the fourth-year coach — who went 54-3 in his first three seasons at English, including those three city titles — might have to learn how to have fun without a pile of victories this season. After graduating six seniors from last year’s 17-1 squad — including Yabriela Perez, who will play for Suffolk University this year — the Blue & Blue return just one starter this year in senior Nelsy Barreiro, who is only in her second season of volleyball.
And everyone else in the city league is counting on English having a down year, especially Latin Academy, which won seven straight city championships before English edged them out the last three years — including beating them twice in the finals.
“There are other teams too, O’Bryant is in there too, but it is an opportunity and even thought we don’t have the hitting as strong as we’d like, we always have a chance to win the city,” said fourth-year Latin Academy coach Phuong Cao. “We were way up there with them but we lost. Yes it is an opportunity and hopefully we can come through this year.”
At least one coach in the league, however, said English won’t miss a beat this season because of Mondesier’s strong leadership and knowledge of the game.
“I think he’s a good enough coach,” Dorchester coach Amie Capodanno said. “Yes, I think if he can recruit and he builds enough confidence in those girls he’ll have a very successful team. I don’t doubt it. He’s a pretty amazing coach.”
For its own part, English doesn’t seem to be stressing about this season. They say it’s not like they had a powerhouse program when Mondesier first saw the team play about four years ago.
“When we started [with Mondesier] it was awful,” said outgoing senior Johanly Garcia, who is an assistant coach this year and is attending Newbury College. “I’m sorry, we weren’t really good but we won. That means they are better than we were so they can win.”
When he first saw the team play, Mondesier’s wife was a guidance counselor at the school and he had been working as an accountant for State Street Bank for 11 years.
English’s old volleyball coach happened to be retiring, and Mondesier, who was a Globe All-Scholastic volleyball player for Cambridge Rindge & Latin in 1991 before playing for UMass Lowell, was looking to shift gears. (He has also been the boys’ coach at BC High the last four years.)
“I called them to a higher standard,” Mondesier said. “I don’t know if it was a calling the year before I picked up coaching. … I knew automatically it wasn’t going to be the typical bump, bump, bump. I want to teach. I want offense. I wanted to see bump, set, spike.
“There’s a level for everybody and you have to call them to their best potential. If you haven’t played at a high level it’s hard to call them to a higher standard.”
Just as amazing as the high standards that the team was reaching on the court was the high standards the team reached in the classroom. When Mondesier took over the team the school implemented higher academic eligibility requirements for its athletes, starting with a 2.0 GPA three years ago, a 2.2 two years ago and finally a 2.5 last year.
During that three year period, not a single member of the girls’ volleyball team failed off the squad.
This year, the school’s new headmaster is bringing the eligibility standard for the school’s athletes back to the district-wide standard of a 1.67 in an effort to boost participation in athletics school wide. But in a school that’s struggling to change the culture around academics and athletics, there’s no doubt that the volleyball team has become the gold standard on both counts.
“I’m establishing a culture, not just typical gym volleyball, recreational volleyball but I’m calling it to a true varsity sport,” Mondesier said.
On the court, at least, this season will be the true test of how sturdy of a foundation the outgoing players from the last three years have left.
“If we work and we work as a team we can win like we did last year,” Barreiro, the team’s only returning senior and only returning starter, said. “I think it’s not a problem that we can get to the finals and fight for another championship.”
The outgoing players have also rubbed off on Barreiro’s younger sister, Heidy, a junior outside hitter.
“First they taught me that volleyball is passion,” she said. “It’s what you do, you have control of the game and it's you being there playing. It’s an overwhelming feeling you don’t know how to describe.
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.