CONCORD -- The last time the Carondelet High volleyball team reached the North Coast Section Division II finals was 2006, and since then, the program has had some pretty good teams.
But maybe not any that have been this good.
A year after going 13-17, the Cougars return nine players, seven of them seniors, as they hope to contend for the East Bay Athletic League and NCS Division II titles.
Carondelet entered the week with a 7-1 record, and begin EBAL play on Sept. 24 at Livermore. The Cougars beat Northgate, the defending Diablo Valley Athletic League champion, 25-9, 25-21, 25-19 on Sept. 12.
"I'm very excited about this group," Carondelet coach Jerry Mix said. "Talent-wise, it's one of the best I've had in my nine seasons here, but attitude and camaraderie, it's tops."
Despite the sub-.500 overall record last season, Carondelet was still a No. 6 seed in the section playoffs, mainly because the Cougars compete in one of the toughest leagues in the Bay Area. Carondelet and Livermore are the only Division II schools in the EBAL.
A year ago, Carondelet had just a 4-10 record in league play, but that included three five-game losses.
"I think we could be one of the top four teams in Division II," Mix said. "And we'd like to be in the league title hunt throughout the season.
"I had a pretty good idea of what we had," said Mix of who his returning players would be. "But it comes down to finishing and we couldn't multiple times last year. We can't let that happen this year."
The EBAL has as many as six teams that could realistically win the league title, and three or four losses could still earn a league championship. California is the defending champion, and went on to win the NCS Division I title as the No. 1 seed.
But if the Sept. 7 Deer Valley Tournament is any barometer, look for Carondelet and Monte Vista to be fighting at the top after besting the other four EBAL teams in the field and reaching the finals.
"After playing Monte Vista and seeing the other schools, they're probably the team to beat," Mix said. "But every time we play them it's a battle and it brings out the best in both teams, so if we're both in the hunt it'll be that much more exciting."