Once you’ve been an All-CIF selection and a league MVP, you should have some idea what it takes to excel. 

If, however, you’re now coaching at a school where in recent decades there hasn’t been a championship, and in some years not even a team, the challenge becomes, well, significantly greater. But not insurmountable.

Certainly not for second-year head coach Donte Archie and his St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy boys’ basketball team. On Feb. 29, the Warriors defeated Oakwood 67-58 to capture the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A championship, the first in school history. 

The Warriors then rode that wave to the Division IV semifinals of the Southern California Regional playoffs before losing 49-45 to Palisades, rallying from a 12-point deficit late but falling short.

Still, St. Pius X-St. Matthias’ 29-7 overall record was quite a turnaround from 7-21 in 2019, a feat that surprised almost everyone except the players themselves.

“We had a very good foundation of returning players plus some talented newcomers,” says Archie. “And once they bought into the whole program — the athletics, the academics, the faith component and the expectations associated with each element — it became a very hard team to beat.”

Archie could speak to his team from experience, having been an All-CIF selection at Serra High School in Gardena as well as Del Rey League MVP in 2008 before playing college ball at Citrus College and Lewis-Clark State in Idaho. 

“The Catholic school background was very important in my development as a player and a coach,” says Archie, who attended Transfiguration Elementary School in Los Angeles before coming to Serra. “There is a structure, a set plan, a sense of knowing what you are going to do each day that resonated with me as a student, and it’s something I look to pass on to my players.”

It was helpful, he adds, that “we didn’t have to do a lot of bonding exercises, because the guys were already doing that. My job was to show that I care for them as people, not just as basketball players, because sports is only part of what they’ll do in life. You want to teach life lessons as well as how to play man-to-man defense.”

Those life lessons included “the system” that had nothing to do with plays, but everything to do with attitude.

“It’s about showing up before school at 5:30 or 6 a.m. for workouts, showing up in the weight room after school, making time for academics and study hall, preparing for college — it’s about commitment,” says Archie. “I told these players, ‘I can show you how to take care of the business in your life while you are here. And if you can do that now, you’ll be successful no matter what you do later on.’”

That doesn’t mean it always went smoothly. “There were some days,” grins Archie, “when practices were sort of up and down. But once the games started, these guys were locked in.”

Losing only to Salesian (the Division 3AA titlists) in Santa Fe League play, St. Pius X-St. Matthias rolled into the 4A playoff bracket and went all the way to the title, recapturing a bit of the school’s glory days from a half-century ago. 

Until it closed in 1995, the former Pius X High School of Downey had enjoyed a fine athletic history, with boys’ basketball alums included future NBA player and coach Rick Adelman (class of 1964) and current Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar (class of 1976). The team twice was CIF-SS runner-up (1964 and 1992).

In 2012, St. Matthias High School an all-girls’ school that moved from Huntington Park to Downey after the closure of Pius X — became coeducational and was renamed St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy. But it took time, understandably, for the boys’ athletic program to become competitive.

Last fall, though, the football team under coach Todd Butler, in only its third season, went undefeated until losing a closely fought championship game.

“That really energized the campus,” said Bob Santisteven, athletic director, “and the boys’ basketball team took that momentum a long way, led by Coach Archie.”

The Warriors began the year 1-3, but confidence never wavered, says the coach. “Once we got some tournament experience early in the season, we started to pick it up,” he says. “And once we got to playoffs, we felt we could make a good run. But,” he smiles, “I didn’t know we’d do this well.”