Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy Sophia Coffey

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy junior setter Sophia Coffey is the 2013 All-Area Girls' Volleyball Player of the Year. (Roger Wilson/Staff Photographer)

There was a time, not long ago, that the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy volleyball team was not only one of the best within the San Gabriel Valley, but one of the stronger programs in all of Southern California.

That distinction was cultivated on the back of Mission League championships, 20-win seasons and victories versus strong teams, both locally and throughout the Southland.

“When I came here, I was definitely aware of the rich tradition at Flintridge Sacred Heart,” Tologs second-year Coach Ernest Banaag said. “The talent was definitely here, but it was just a matter of finding a leader and building a team.”

Banaag, a winner of three CIF-Southern Section championships at nearby Mayfield Senior School, found such a leader in Sophia Coffey.

Yet, the junior wasn’t a menacing middle blocker or a powerful outside hitter.

Rather, the 16-year-old was even more valuable serving all positions on the court as a setter who excelled at passing and other duties.

Coffey finished with 911 assists, 221 digs, 62 kills and 41 aces, while being named both the Mission League Most Valuable Player and a CIF Southern Section Division I-A first-team selection.

As for her squad, Coffey led the Tologs to a share of the Mission League title, the team’s first 20-win season since 2009 and furthest postseason advancement in six years.

For those accolades and more, Coffey was has been selected the 2013 All-Area Girls' Volleyball Player of the Year by the sports writers and editors of the Glendale News-Press, La Cañada Valley Sun and Burbank Leader.

“Being a setter, I have to be the quarterback of the team. I have to know the strengths of my players and I have to quickly be ready to go to the next play,” said Coffey, whose first position was as a right side hitter at the age of 10. “I have to know what works so I can help my teammates.”

The Seton Hall University-bound setter helped the Tologs jump out to an 8-1 start that included a convincing 25-16, 25-20, 25-22 victory at Rio Hondo League champion and local power South Pasadena on Sept. 16.

In that contest, Coffey totaled 35 assists as three Flintridge Sacred Heart players recorded eight or more kills, including freshman Kayla Lund, who continued a promising debut season with 15 kills on 24 attempts.

“Kayla, she’s a funny girl,” Coffey said. “She came in during the summer and was not used to our sets. ... She developed so much as a player and you could see that growth. It’s been fun to see her grow and read the blocks and know what to do.”

The good times, however, weren’t without a few bumps in the road in the form of divisional powers La Salle and Harvard-Westlake.

The Tologs traveled to face the highly-touted Lancers, the reigning Division I-A champions, on Oct. 1 in jam-packed Duffy Lewis Gymnasium in what was a playoff-like atmosphere.

In that contest, Coffey delivered one of her most inspired efforts, finishing with 42 assists and 12 digs in what was a La Salle 25-17, 24-26, 25-21, 25-19 victory.

Even though the Tologs dropped their second match of the season, they proved the only team to take a set from La Salle at home all season, which built morale while gaining attention.

“It was great to see so many people come out and root us on,” Coffey said. “What makes playing La Salle so tough is that they run so many plays and it’s tough to find a hitter. When we beat them, though, and that gave us the confidence that we could play with anyone.”

Yet, whatever good was gained in a lively battle with La Salle was squandered rather rapidly a week later when the Tologs first traveled to league champion and personal tormentor Harvard-Westlake on Oct. 8.