SF Preps: Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Margi Beima wins 500th match

SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL — Just after her wedding in a church in Santa Rosa, Margi Beima ran through the guests to find Jo Ann Momono. Knowing her former high school volleyball coach couldn’t stay for the reception, and she wanted to make sure the two connected.

Momono — by then, the athletic director at Sacred Heart Cathedral for 10 years — asked Beima if she had any interest in coaching. Beima thought Momo was joking. “I’ll call you after my honeymoon,” she said.

Twenty years later, Momono crossed the court at Sacred Heart Cathedral and handed Beima a bouquet of yellow roses. Through the birth of her two children and surviving breast cancer, Beima has built a girls’ volleyball powerhouse on Ellis Street, and in the second match of a community service/volleyball invitational she founded — a five-set grinder against Palo Alto — Beima notched her her 500th win.

“Stay somewhere long enough, I guess,” Beima said, after her team surrounded her and presented her with a commemorative ball, signed by each of her players — including her daughter, Maddie.

The Irish (19-4) needed 18 kills from UCLA-bound Skylar Canady and a virtuoso all-around performance from Amaya Keiper — including a string of five straight aces — to put down the Vikings in the second match of the Serve It Up invitational.

After Saturday wins over Justin-Siena (25-7, 25-17, 25-8), Palo Alto (19-25, 25-15, 25-17, 18-25, 15-9) and then Christian Brothers (25-19, 25-19, 25-14), Sacred Heart Cathedral (19-4) is well on its way to yet another deep postseason run — something that’s become commonplace under Beima, a three-time Coach of the Year — despite the loss of UC Davis-bound outside hitter Megan Lenn, sidelined with a broken knuckle.

In her 17 years as varsity head coach, Beima has captured two West Catholic Athletic League titles, seven Central Coast Section championships, five NorCal championships and one state crown.

“She is a way better coach than I ever was,” Momono said. “She can relate to girls of today, her style is just all about making the best people and players.”

On Saturday, Beima was joined by about 20 family members including her son Joe — a senior star on the boys’ volleyball team — along with her younger brother, aunts, uncles, nephews and parents. Her sisters Tricia and Betsy were there, as well. The three played together for one year under Momono at St. Rose, when Tricia was a senior, Beima a junior and Betsy a sophomore.

“Her mom was like, ‘Don’t put them in at the same time, because if we lose, all the other parents are going to blame me,’” Momono said.

As she looked down and considered a black and white photo of herself and Beima during Beima’s senior year, Momono said she knew even then that Beima would wind up coaching some day.

“She was always a smart player, and she’s very strategic,” Momono said. “Sometimes, kids who are athletic, they don’t have to be strategic.”

After taking Momono up on her offer after returning from her honeymoon in Puerto Rico, Beima coached freshmen for a year, then junior varsity for two before being moved up to varsity assistant in 2002. In 2003, her first season as varsity head coach, she was pregnant with Maddie.

Before her first rivalry game against St. Ignatius (the two will play the latest edition of the series on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.), she went into labor.

“She was in the hospital, and she was texting us every 15 minutes, asking the score,” said Momono, who coached varsity for the Irish program’s first three years. “I said, ‘Will you just stop? We’ll take care of it.’ She was like, ‘My water hasn’t broken,’ and we’re like, ‘We don’t care. You stay over there.’”

Maddie played a key role in Sacred Heart Cathedral’s third and final match on Saturday against Christian Brothers, tying the second set at 10-10, then getting a kill to put the Irish ahead 12-11. She also had a cross-court kill in the third set.

Two years after Maddie was born, Beima was diagnosed with breast cancer. In June of 2005, she had a lumpectomy, and underwent chemotherapy and radiation during the season.

“She did not take one day off,” Momono said. “I just remember her sitting there with a bucket next to her because she felt like she had to throw up, coaching our game against Mitty. She felt horrible, but she’s sitting there, coaching the game. She said, ‘Just give me some ice chips.’”

That year, Beima won her second Central Coast Section title.

“Volleyball was a great distraction,” Beima said. “Everybody really took care of me. Our kids really stepped up, our seniors, in particular. It’s rough. [Cancer] sucks, and you can quote me on that.”

While Beima doesn’t talk about the disease much, she’s channeled that experience into coaching.

“She’s helped me figure out ways to deal with adversity, and dealing with that,” said Canady, a UCLA commit who admits to feeling defeated if her shots aren’t falling. “That’s something I do struggle with, and she’s definitely helped me.”

Canady said she felt a little extra juice on Saturday. She wanted to win for Beima, even if Beima herself was a bit nonplussed about the achievement.

“I’m just happy to get it over with,” Beima said. “It’s like a birthday that you maybe don’t care that much about celebrating, but you smile.”

Soon after the final win, Beima was down in the cafeteria readying a video presentation for the four teams at Serve It Up, an event she founded about a decade ago to bring together other Lasallian schools for a day of community service, then a day of volleyball. She said she got the idea from colleague John Vigo, who had suggested that the boys’ basketball team run a tournament with service at its heart.

Every year, four girls’ volleyball teams — Sacred Heart Cathedral and three other Lasallian schools — get together and help the San Francisco community. This year, Palo Alto joined three La Salle schools — the Irish, Christian Brothers and Justin-Siena — for the event.

The teams divided into five groups and deployed across the city on Friday. One group played beachball volleyball with veterans at the VA in the Richmond. Another group went to De Marillac Academy — Sacred Heart Cathedral’s sister elementary school — and taught a volleyball clinic. A third bagged meals for the homeless in the Tenderloin, and a fourth assembled toiletries collected through a drive for Lava Mae, which helps provide hygiene supplies and pop-up bathing facilities for the homeless. A fifth group helped sew mastectomy pillows for breast cancer victims. Few players on the team know about Beima’s battle with the disease.

“She doesn’t like the attention on herself,” Momono said.

After the day of competition was over, Beima was most concerned about her defensive specialist Alyssa Taylor. With the Irish trailing 14-8 in the second set against the Vikings, Taylor landed hard on her right leg, and went down yelping in pain. Beima was the first on the court, and kneeled by her side.

Taylor crutched into the gym during the day’s final match, right leg wrapped from thigh to ankle in a black brace. As Beima took a commemorative photo with her team, Lee made sure everyone waited to start shooting until she got onto the court to be a part of it.

“She’s an amazing kid,” Beima said.

A previous version of this story mistakenly referenced Alyssa Lee as crutching into the gym after an injury. It was Alyssa Taylor who suffered the knee injury.

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