Saint Monica High School varsity football paractice at Airport Park. (photo by Brandon Wise)

INGLEWOOD — St. Monica’s Head Coach Larry Muno says he’s learned a lot about his team during summer practices. Saturday against Animo Leadership we’ll find out what he knows.

The second-year football coach is confident that a summer spent on improving his team’s defense should give his Mariners a bit more balance as he hopes to continue a turnaround that saw the team end its nearly three-year losing streak and notch three victories against six loses.

“We’ve looked good at times,” Muno said of the defense. “Then at times they looked like they could use a little more work.”

Such is the problem that many coaches face. It’s just been a special challenge for Muno, who has brought a high-powered offense to the school since taking the position, but hasn’t had as easy a time bringing the defense up to speed.

A rash of injuries have made Muno’s job that much more difficult. Considering that St. Monica’s team is just 20-plus players deep, missing guys create holes. To shore up those deficiencies Muno has brought up a few players from junior varsity to fill in.

“We just plug the next guy in and get into it,” Muno said. “Small school football — that’s what you get.”

Lucky for Muno, the star of his team is still up and throwing. Senior quarterback Matthew Partyka, who last season threw for 2,372 yards and 20 touchdowns, returns to an offensive unit that scored 262 points. The one thing that Muno would like Partyka to improve is his TD-to-interception ratio. As a junior, he threw 20 picks, a number Muno hopes should decline this time around.

While news of St. Monica’s new-found commitment to defense hasn’t spread to the Animo camp yet, the presence of Partyka is a problem that needs addressing. During last year’s matchup between the two teams, Partyka was sharp in leading the Mariners to a 31-0 victory, which ended St. Monica’s prolonged losing streak.

Animo Head Coach Jamar Hamilton hopes this year’s game is different for the free-wheeling Partyka. He plans to try and clog up passing lanes to keep the 5-foot-6 quarterback from making visual contact with his wide receivers. He also said he may mix up his four-three base defense to put more defensive backs on the field to stop a passing attack that features junior Jamal Young and senior Sam Holguin, who returns to the team after missing most of last season due to injury.

“We have to look at the things that they are good at,” Hamilton said, “and passing is their thing.”

He said that Partyka used his legs as much as his arm to topple Animo last season and doesn’t want a repeat of that performance.

“We have to make [Partyka] beat us with his arm,” Hamilton said. “He’s too difficult to contain when he’s running with the ball.”

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