The Corona del Mar and Los Angeles Loyola high school boys’ volleyball teams cannot seem to avoid each other.
Since 2008, they have met at least once during the season. They have battled it out in the quarterfinals of Poway’s Best of the West Invitational, in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions finale, nine times in nonleague action, five of those at Loyola and four at CdM, and in the CIF Southern Section playoffs on four occasions.
They find themselves competing for the ultimate prize again, the Division 1 title. The two coaches, CdM’s Steve Conti and Loyola’s Michael Boehle, wouldn’t want it any other way.
The No. 3-seeded Sea Kings (30-3) and No. 1 Cubs (27-1) are in the Division 1 final for the second straight year, and the showdown between the rivals will take place inside the same gym at Cerritos College on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Sea Kings are making their third straight section finals appearance in the top division, and the last two have ended with them losing in five sets at Cerritos College. They lost to Huntington Beach two years ago and to Loyola last year.
Loyola is in the section finals for the seventh time in nine years. What is remarkable is that those trips have all been in the premier division.
But the Cubs have been through what CdM has experienced in losing on the big stage in consecutive years. From 2012 to 2015, they lost three straight times, first to rival Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, then twice to Huntington Beach.
The Sea Kings are hoping to avoid falling short for a third time in a row.
They have the talent and size in Clay Dickinson, a 6-foot-7 senior outside hitter headed to USC, Brandon Browning, a 6-4 junior outside hitter committed to USC, Mitch Haly, a 6-6 senior middle blocker bound for USC, Kevin Kobrine, a 6-4 junior opposite committed to UCLA, and Jake Meyer, a 6-7 senior middle blocker to lead CdM to its first section title in the top division in 17 years. Patrick Paragas, the setter, will be spreading the ball around.
Loyola counters with three standout seniors, Penn State-bound outside hitter Will Bantle (6-5), Stanford-bound outside hitter J.P. Reilly (6-4), UCLA-bound middle blocker Ian Parish (6-9) and Princeton-bound opposite Brady Wedbush (6-7). Luke Hardesty sets for the Cubs.
If there is one program that has had CdM’s number since 2008, it has been Loyola. The Cubs are 12-3 against the Sea Kings during the stretch, and 3-1 in the postseason.
Boehle is one of the few coaches in Southern California who has a winning record against Conti. They broke in at their respective schools around the same time, Conti with CdM in 1996 and Boehle at his alma mater Loyola in 1999.
Both coaches respect each other and their storied programs, reasons why the Sea Kings and Cubs began playing an annual nonleague match in 2009, a year after Loyola beat CdM in the quarterfinals of the Best of the West Invitational.
That tournament in San Diego takes place at the start of the year. Toward the end of the season, Conti and Boehle always seem to have their teams ready to make a run at a section crown.
Conti, in his 22nd year, will coach in his 13th section championship match with CdM’s boys, while Boehle, in his 19th year, is in his 10th as Loyola’s coach.
Conti and Boehle have won many times with their schools. Conti reached a milestone in a first-round sweep at home of Mission Hills Alemany on May 9, earning his 500th win with the Sea Kings. Conti is now 503-136 at CdM and Boehle is 477-62 at Loyola.
The victories that are the most memorable to Conti and Boehle come during this time of the year.
Conti has led CdM to five section titles, and Boehle has won six with the Cubs. Boehle and Michael Cook, Mira Costa’s former coach, have won the second-most section boys’ championships, one behind Chip Fenenga, from Santa Ynez.
Loyola and CdM rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, when it comes to reaching this point in the season. This will mark the Cubs’ 16th section finals appearance, and CdM’s 15th. Loyola is 12-3 in the finals, while CdM is 7-7.
The last two times the programs have played, the contest has gone the distance and it could have gone either way.
Loyola outlasted CdM in last year’s championship, winning 25-14, 25-20, 17-25, 31-33, 15-12. In a nonleague affair on April 26, the host Cubs beat the Sea Kings 25-15, 23-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-10.
“We didn’t play a very good first set. They beat us pretty darn good,” Conti said of last month’s match. “We’re going to have to play more efficiently than we did. We were right there with them in some games. We had a couple of unforced errors, and they also made a couple of good defensive plays and fought hard.
“This is the toughest, deepest [playoff division in the country]. It’s hard. It’s a tough road.”
The season won’t end for CdM or Loyola on Saturday night. There’s another tournament both programs have qualified for, and that’s the CIF Southern California Regional Division I playoffs.
Don’t be surprised if the Sea Kings and Cubs see each other in that tournament next week.