For the first time since the Karch Kiraly era, Santa Barbara is back in the Southern Section volleyball finals.
Led by Steve Couvillion's 23 kills, the unseeded Dons (18-2) upset top-seeded Newport Harbor (17-2) 15-12, 15-8, 11-15, 15-12 in a Division 4-A semifinal match Wednesday night at Corona del Mar High School.
According to Santa Barbara Coach Bob Moore, the Dons last reached the finals in 1978 when Kiraly led a team that not only won the Southern Section title, but also never lost a game.
Although this Santa Barbara team does not have one dominating player, Matt Renshaw, who had 51 assists, set a balanced attack that included Tiffer Juigliano, who had 14 kills, and Matt Earls and Brad McMahon, who added seven each.
"Newport Harbor made a lot of uncharacteristic errors early, and we confused them with our offense," Moore said. "This year, we deliberately took a lot of long road trips to get ready for a situation like this."
The long bus ride seemed to affect Newport Harbor, not Santa Barbara, as the Sailors' defense went flat early. Newport Harbor had only two blocks in Game 1, and none in Game 2 as the Dons won both with relative ease.
The Sailors' blocking came to life in Game 3, as Frank Griffo, who had 10 kills and nine blocks, and Eric Vallely combined on three blocks to lead a rally from a 3-8 deficit.
In a 3-A match:
Esperanza 3, Harvard-Westlake 1--Esperanza (16-2) knocked off the defending 3-A champion, 15-4, 8-15, 16-14, 15-3, to advance to the title match. Paul Nihipali, Ryan Delaney and Brad Goldston each had 18 kills to pace the Aztecs, who will play top-seeded Royal at 5 p.m. Saturday at Cerritos College. Harvard ended its season 17-5.