When seniors Ariana Morones and Sydney Naour first entered high school at Bishop Diego and joined the girl’s basketball team, they knew they were joining a winner.
Just the year before, the Cardinals had made it to the CIF-SS championship game, and won, delivering the school their first title in over two decades.
Though difficult, Morones made the varsity team as a freshman.
“It was honestly pretty intimidating. My sister was actually a senior at the time and played on the team and I played with most of those girls in junior high because we all went to the same private school,” Morones said.
“But we all had that mentality, coming off that 2015 season, like that’s what we needed to do (win another championship) so that was just pretty intimidating.”
While Morones was on varsity, Naour started on the junior varsity team. She was eventually called up toward the latter part of the season.
“I wanted to go in and help the team and help support the school and our program, but I just didn’t want to mess anything up having not bonded with them the whole season,” Naour said.
“But it was just a different environment. It was very much like ‘we have to win,’ and we had some rough practices.”
The 2016 Bishop Diego team did make the postseason but was bounced in the first round.
The next two years after that saw the Cardinals struggle to even be competitive after losing five senior starters to graduation.
At that time, Bishop Diego struggled to even field a JV team with five freshmen having to play varsity instead so that it could have a normal five-on-five practice.
“We were a little big for a varsity team but we had to create that type of program because we just didn’t have enough players,” Morones said.
The Cardinals went a combined 15-30 over those next two seasons, which saw them win just five of their 22 league games.
“Of course there was definitely a level of frustration,” Morones said.
“I come from an athletic family and my brother was apart of the 2017 football team and he was on that team that won State so he won and then it was kind of like this mentality, like you have to win, losing isn’t an option.
“And then all of a sudden, that’s kind of all that was happening. It was definitely a big letdown.”
It also didn’t help that Morones was dealing with a slew of injuries, as she separated her shoulder in both her sophomore and junior seasons, sidelining her for a majority of those two years.
“All those times being hurt definitely make you think about quitting. I definitely felt helpless at times because I would see what was going on and I could see how to fix it,” Morones said.
“You also need to find a way to be constructive because no one wants to take criticism from someone who’s not out there and isn’t doing it.”
As for Naour, she also became much more of a staple in Bishop Diego’s starting lineup.
“For me, it was important to myself that I prove that I deserved my spot, not just because I was an older player. I spent a year on JV freshman year working my hardest to get the basics down so that I could help our program succeed and I wanted to show I earned my spot,” Naour said.
Despite not having a winning season in their junior year, both Naour and Morones saw the growth in the program.
“I started to feel a turnaround. It was a real wake-up call and showed us that we needed to buckle down. Junior year was another wake-up call that we just have to keep working and this year, it has worked out,” Morones said.
“But I feel like we needed that to build up to make the team that we have today.”
Now seniors, Morones and Naour are reaping the rewards of hard work in re-building a program.
Bishop Diego, with an overall record of 23-8, is one win away from its first CIF-SS title since 2015. The Cardinals will face Ganesha at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Before the season, I think I would have been a little hesitant to believe we could be here but after a few practices, I saw so much potential for championships. With the team that we had built from our sophomore and junior year to this team with all these extremely talented freshmen, I knew we could go far,” Naour said.
Naour and Morones were also teammates on the girls volleyball team this past season that also made recent history, winning its first CIF match since 2002.
Naour is a captain on the current varsity team, a role she takes with honor. The senior is also president of the ASB club on campus and has been in leadership roles throughout her life, so leading her basketball team was nothing new.
“I have a lot of other leadership roles and so I’ve been able to bring it into basketball because I’m not just helping people that are my age, I’m helping to somewhat coach the future of the program. I can’t just yell, I have to find a way to teach,” Naour said.
Another thing that inspires the seniors is the fact that they are girls. Morones recalled how often she’s been told girls sports are inferior.
She said her coach, Jeff Burich, constantly references the Megan Rapinoe ad with the song “Anything you can do, I could do better” playing in the background, to constantly reinforce to his team that they are just as capable of winning a championship.
“(To get a win Saturday) would be big for the school and big for girls sports in general, because there’s always been a struggle there. And I feel like us getting these wins and like making those titles and our name for ourselves is just going to pave the road for the girls behind us,” Morones said.
No matter what happens on Saturday, however, Morones is just thankful for her family’s support throughout her career and her coaching staff and teammates.
“Win or lose, I just hope I can make them proud and play my best,” Morones said.
For Naour, Saturday will be her last chance to win a CIF title. She plays softball for Bishop, but the Cardinals are not going to be playing in a league and cannot play for a CIF title.
“This is really my last chance to make a physical impact on our school because we’ll have a banner in our Brick House and so having a taste of that with volleyball has been even more fueling to me,” Naour said.
“Saturday is going to be very memorable and knowing that we faced so much adversity and grown so much and we were able to make this happen for each other and for us is amazing.
“I know we can do this.”