Because as the Rebels again demonstrated in their opening-round match
of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs, where there's Will,
there usually is a way.
After relinquishing a two-game lead against Desert, Birnie and his
teammates regrouped before their do-or-die fifth game, and proceeded to
patiently and methodically run off nine of the match's final 10 points to
advance to the second round for the second straight season.
Now the team's setter and lone four-year varsity player will attempt
to lead the overachieving Rebels (16-5) to another heart-stopping victory
at 7 tonight at fourth-seeded Santa Barbara Laguna Blanca (12-2).
Not bad for a group that returned just three players -- Birnie and
juniors Matt Bosch and Prescott Gadd -- from last year's team that went
17-5, 10-2 in Santa Fe League.
"The best part of all of this is proving to everyone last year that we
are a good team," said Birnie, 18, who recorded 39 assists in Friday's
victory, giving him 563 for the season.
"My whole career was with the class who left last year, but every time
we accomplish something I get so excited because we were able to do it a
little bit better than they did."
If Birnie heard it once, he heard it too many times.
The 2001 season was supposed to be his year.
With Birnie orchestrating Flintridge Prep's attack and surrounded by
offensive weapons Scott Keen, Brian Shim, Brian Strand, Ben Watt and
Bryan Young, the Rebels recorded the most wins in Coach Sean Beattie's
tenure, including a five-game victory -- their first -- against four-time
league champion L.A. Cathedral.
So when all five of the aforementioned players graduated, Beattie
figured that 2002 would be a rebuilding year, with the prospect of just
making the playoffs being the ultimate goal.
"Last year, I kept telling Will that this is your year, but this
season is very gratifying both for him and for me," said Beattie, whose
squad has won 53 of 76 games, including a runner-up showing in the
Calabasas Viewpoint Tournament -- highlighted by a 16-14 triumph against
Laguna Blanca in the semifinals -- on April 20.
"We've already passed every goal that I laid out for us and we've been
doing it with heart."