MODESTO — If it's true that athletic excellence in public high school sports is cyclical in nature, the cycle that rules Modesto Metro Conference volleyball has a flat tire.
It's moved very little over the last seven seasons.
The MMC opens its league season tonight with two matches Enochs at Johansen and Beyer at Gregori but there appears to be little reason to believe this year's standings will shake out differently from those of the recent past.
In short, MMC volleyball has been split by a class war.
There are three schools in the upper division (Gregori, Enochs and Beyer) one in the middle (Modesto) and three striving to improve (Davis, Downey and Johansen.)
In no way does this mean a team from Column C is incapable of taking down a team from Column A, but there is a wide chasm between teams that doesn't appear to be narrowing.
"I never count anybody out in the MMC," said Enochs coach Cathi Varni, entering her fifth year at the helm of the Eagles. "I've never done that as a coach. I wish we all were a bit stronger collectively, but as a coach you can't overlook anybody at any time."
Here's how the seven MMC programs have fared over the last seven years:
Gregori has been playing varsity volleyball for two years and already is the top program in the MMC, claiming a co-title in 2011 and the outright crown in 2012. Dave Winfrey, formerly of Beyer and Modesto Junior College, took over the program late last month from Ron Silva.
Enochs is embarking on its seventh varsity season. The Eagles claimed the league crown in 2010, shared it in 2011 and have finished in the top two for four straight seasons.
Beyer last won the MMC in 2006, but has finished in the MMC's top three for seven straight years.
Modesto won three straight MMC titles from 2007-09 and has finished fourth or better for seven straight years. This year's Panthers are off to a slow start.
Davis finished third in 2008, which is the only time in the last seven seasons the Spartans have avoided the bottom half of the standings.
Similarly, Downey finished second in 2007, the lone upper-half finish for the Knights since 2006.
Johansen has not won more than two MMC matches in any season since going 5-10 in 2007.
"Ten years ago Beyer was the best in the region, then it moved to Enochs and now it's Gregori," Winfrey said. "The talent has a tendency to go around, but you find that the programs with coaches who have been there the longest are the most successful. It's hard to maintain continuity when coaches keep changing."
The disparity between the haves and have-nots is wide enough to force coaches to find high-level mid-season tournaments for their teams, just to get them action against teams bound for the postseason.
"It's a challenge as a coach to be able to keep practicing at a high level when your competition isn't as strong as you are," Varni said. "I try to pick-up later tournaments so we can have games under our belt against teams that are more like Gregori."
But the real challenge for the MMC, according to Winfrey, is in finding a way to strengthen its weaker members.
"There's a lot of development needed," Winfrey said. "Volleyball is a second thought for many families in the Modesto area. Modesto hasn't made volleyball as accessible as other regions. We know there are ways to do it because other communities have.
"If we want gym sports in general to be on par with the other sports in other communities in California, then we have to make the gyms more accessible."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek