LOS ANGELES — The Corona del Mar High and Los Angeles Loyola boys’ volleyball teams might as well meet in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals again.
The section finalists from a year ago squared off on Wednesday, the first time since they played for the Division 1 title last May.
Round 1 in the regular season went to Loyola.
The host Cubs knocked off CdM, 25-15, 23-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-10, most likely locking up one of the top two seeds in the upcoming section playoffs.
Loyola (22-1) went into the showdown ranked No. 2 in the Division 1 poll, a spot ahead of the Sea Kings (24-3). The only team ranked higher than the Cubs is Oak Park, which handed Loyola its lone setback this year. The loss came in the semifinals of the Best of the West Invitational in San Diego last month.
Steve Conti, CdM’s coach, saw the Cubs play at that tournament. In his eyes, not much has changed.
The Cubs, the defending section champions, are a force with their balanced attack of Penn State-bound outside hitter Will Bantle (15 kills), opposite Brady Wedbush (12), Stanford-bound outside hitter J.P. Reilly (11) and UCLA-bound middle blocker Ian Parish (six).
“We had a lot of unforced errors. We tried to get our guys to make some adjustments, and we just weren’t capable of making the adjustments,” Conti said. “At the same time, we still got to a fifth set. In the first half, we go back there and miss serves. Maybe our guys like to hear the Loyola cheer after [the Cubs] win. Maybe they like doing that, rather than trying to win themselves.”
Conti’s Sea Kings entered the night with a lot of momentum, having clinched a share of the Pacific Coast League crown the night before, and on Saturday, they won the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. Unlike the final up north, CdM went the distance with Loyola.
The Sea Kings forced a decisive fifth set, behind Kevin Kobrine (16 kills), a junior committed to UCLA, middle blocker Jake Meyer (11), and USC commits Clay Dickinson (nine) and Brandon Browning (nine). Setter Patrick Paragas finished with 48 assists, two kills and three digs.
Game 5 began with Loyola taking a 6-3 lead. What was a 3-3 set turned in favor of the Cubs. Kobrine served long, Reilly stuffed a shot, and then Dickinson struck one out. The Sea Kings called a timeout, and when play resumed, they managed to get within, 8-7, as Kobrine had a kill and Meyer blocked a shot.
The rest of the way, Loyola outscored CdM, 7-3, beating the Sea Kings for the fifth time in the last six tries. Setter Matt Johnson came off the bench and played well, going to Reilly, Bantle and Wedbush, each coming up with a kill, and Reilly leading the way with four.
“It could’ve gone either way,” said Loyola Coach Michael Boehle, whose team also defeated CdM in five sets in the section final.
“I just want to stay away from CdM.”
That might not happen come playoff time.
The first round is two weeks away, but if Loyola and CdM stay in their respective spots, No. 2 and No. 3, it could set up a potential semifinal between the two storied programs.
Conti expects CdM to stay at No. 3. The Sea Kings have wins against No. 4 Newport Harbor, sweeping the Sailors in the Battle of the Bay rivalry on April 1, and No. 5 Westlake, sweeping the Warriors in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions final on Saturday.
“A loss in five [sets] at [Loyola] probably shouldn’t move us,” Conti said. “Winning or losing this match maybe would’ve flip-flopped the No. 2 and No. 3, but it still puts us in the same [side of the playoff bracket] with Loyola. Maybe there’s an argument for [the Cubs] to be the top seed. They only have one loss, and it’s to Oak Park, [which] is the top-ranked team, but Oak Park has two losses.”