Sue Kilian had just gotten the job as volleyball coach at Mount St. Joseph, and she called one of her references, Joe Parisi of La Salle College High, to tell him the news.

Then she added something interesting: Keep her in mind, she told Parisi, if La Salle ever needed a volleyball coach. It was interesting because the school didn't even have a volleyball program at the time.

How prescient she was.

It took, oh, only about 24 years, but the Catholic League finally has boys' volleyball, the Explorers finally have a team, and Kilian finally has the position she desired.

And if you exclude interim positions, the all-boys school finally has its first female head coach, according to Parisi, the La Salle athletic director. The school dates to 1858.

That decades-old conversation, Kilian said, never came up in recent conversations with Parisi.

"I'm not necessarily sure if he remembers," Kilian said, and he doesn't, "but that was one of the things I said to him.

"It's just an excellent opportunity. I know that La Salle excels academically as well as athletically, and it just was the right fit."

The numbers back that up. The Explorers are 9-0 in the Catholic League's debut season and 11-1 overall, with the loss coming early against Central Bucks South.

Kilian, an Archbishop Wood graduate, has been coaching for 28 years, since she was a freshman in college, and has worked all levels, from youth to college. Now an assistant athletic director and NCAA compliance officer at Division II Cheyney, she coached the Wolves women as well as women's teams at Holy Family and Philadelphia Textile (now Philadelphia University). On the high school level, she coached girls at Mount St. Joseph, both genders at Council Rock South, and girls at North Penn.

She has plenty of experience with start-ups, having launched the Mount, North Penn, and Textile programs.

Taking over at Cheyney was like a start-from-scratch project, too. The Wolves, she said, hadn't won a match in 30 years - yep, 30 - before her team ended the skid.

"I truly love just taking a bunch of kids that have no clue and turn them into volleyball players . . .," Kilian said. "I just love taking nothing and turning it into something."

At La Salle, Kilian doesn't consider herself to be breaking a gender barrier.

"I don't necessarily think it was 'gender barriers' here," she said. "I'm not necessarily sure a female would want to take on an all-boys school. To me, there's nothing different. In fact, I find them very respectful, and they work real hard for me."

Twenty boys are in the La Salle program, which is fielding both varsity and junior-varsity teams. Seven are seniors and have been getting most of the varsity playing time.

But only two players, junior libero and cocaptain Eddie Devlin and freshman Patrick Guinosso, came in with any competitive volleyball experience, and Guinosso has played mostly on the JV.

"We have a lot of hardworking guys, really," Devlin said. "Two players with club experience don't make a team. "

Devlin anchors the team's serve receive and defense, and he passes with a rating of 2.24 out of 3, Kilian said. Cocaptain and setter Nick Dusing averages seven assists per set, and fellow senior Ben Fabiszewski averages four kills a set.

"We've been really competitive in practice and we have a lot of upperclassmen, so they're trying to guide the younger kids," Dusing said. "Even though we don't have the volleyball experience, we have people that played other sports. So they can adapt quickly, and we've been able to increase our volleyball skills, I guess, quicker than other teams in our league."

Eight Catholic League teams are participating this season, with Archbishop Ryan, Archbishop Wood, Bonner-Prendergast, Cardinal O'Hara, Lansdale Catholic, Roman Catholic, and St. Joseph's Prep being the others.

Catholic League officials decided to offer volleyball after seeing how popular it was in District 1, Bishop McDevitt athletic director Pat Manzi said. He added that his school might add the sport next year or the following year.

The league will hold playoffs this season to crown a champion, which will face the Public League titlist in the District 12 final with a state-tournament berth on the line.

Kilian, her 24-year quest having ended, has the Explorers right in the thick of that hunt.

"She's teaching us a lot," Dusing said. "She's trying to teach us quickly, so we can stay ahead of the other teams."