Corona del Mar High boys volleyball Coach Steve Conti had a simple
goal for his team at the end of last season.
"I told the guys to work harder and, hopefully, we go one step
further," he said after the Sea Kings finished with a 22-11 record.
There weren't many more steps CdM needed to take last year,
finishing 10-0 in the Pacific Coast League for the second straight
season and advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division II
semifinals before being eliminated in three games by eventual
champion Valencia of Valencia.
There was only one senior starter on the squad last year, but
setter Dominic Rubino will be difficult to replace. Rubino was named
to the Newport-Mesa Dream Team, first-team all-league and third-team
Senior Grant Almquist, who was Rubino's backup last year, is
slated to be the starting setter. Also expected to see playing time
at setter is Phil Bannon, a sophomore up from the junior varsity.
Whether it is Almquist or Bannon, the CdM setter will have plenty
Senior Kevin Welch led the Sea Kings in kills (319), digs (162), service aces (38) and was one of the leaders in blocks (29) last
year. The outside hitter was named to the Dream Team for the second
straight year, was voted the league's MVP by the circuit's coaches
and was a second-team All-CIF selection.
Tom Welch, Kevin's twin brother, finished with 296 kills, 155
digs, 21 service aces and 18 blocks last season. Tom was first-team
all-league, first-team All-CIF and All-Newport-Mesa.
"[Tom and Kevin are] a nice 1-2 punch," Conti said. "They carried
a big load last year. For us to reach our potential, we need other
guys to step up. That will make Tom and Kevin better because teams
won't be able to just key on them."
There are a plethora of middle blockers who have the capacity to
attract attention and give the Welches better opportunities.
Senior Austin Brawner was a starter last year and, despite being
5-foot-11, is an intimidating force on offense and defense for the
"He's one of the smallest middles in [Orange County]," Conti said.
"But he is super quick, super explosive and he has the competitive
fire that can't be taught."
In contrast to Brawner's diminutive stature, Ted Slaughter is the
tallest member of the team at 6-7. The senior is hoping to continue
the progress he made in the second half of last season.
"He was a little overwhelmed last year, but he really caught fire
at the end of the season," Conti said.
Ted's brother, Scott, is also looking to break into the lineup.
The 6-6 junior was on the junior varsity last season and excelled
defensively for CdM.
"He had a great year on JV last year," Conti said. "He seems to
have a nice knack for blocking. I'm looking for that from my
Jake Cancellieri played extensively last year, but the 6-3 junior
is coming off shoulder surgery in the off-season and has yet to
Gus Ellis, a 6-5 freshman, proved himself in practice to earn a
spot on varsity.
"[Ellis] holds his own out there, but we're trying to work on his
hitting," Conti said. "We haven't had a whole lot of size in the
middle before. We wanted to beat teams on ball control. I'm hoping
this size we have translates into victories."
Along with the Welch brothers, Ben Applebee is a tri-captain in
charge of helping the Sea Kings remain focused and on track.
Applebee, a senior defensive specialist, has been described as the
team's emotional leader.
"He is the hardest worker in practice," Conti said. "He's like the
Energizer Bunny. With him working so hard, his teammates naturally
pick up the pace."
Joining Applebee as a defensive specialist are seniors Shane
Collins and Brad Stone.
Seniors Gabe Gonzalez and Chris Reilly, who injured his knee last
year and re-injured it during football season, are battling at
opposite hitter along with sophomore Adam Smith.
Also gaining experience behind the Welch brothers will besophomore
outside hitter Blaine Nelson.
"There are some years when a sophomore would see playing time, but
being behind a league MVP and All-CIF player is tough," Conti said.
"We need someone else prepared in case something happens. You can't
replace a Tom or a Kevin Welch. But if Blaine keeps improving, we
won't see a huge drop off if we lose Tom or Kevin or they have an off