The big match turned into a big mismatch.
An impressive Laguna Beach pregame warm-up prior to the start of Saturday's CIF-Southern Section Division II-AA girls' volleyball championship match against long-standing rival Corona del Mar had Breakers Coach Lance Stewart feeling pretty confident about his squad's chances against the Sea Kings.
"It was the best we've had in my four years here," Stewart said of his team's pre-match ritual. "We were hitting the ball, moving around nicely and had a bounce in our step. It was great to see."
The second-seeded Breakers didn't miss a step in the ensuing title match at Cypress College, either, as they swept the top-seeded Sea Kings, 25-21, 25-17, 25-12.
Laguna competed in the school's 10th division final and won the fourth Southern Section title for the school (Division I titles 1976, 1991 and 1996, and Div. II-AA this year).
Laguna teams also have qualified in each of the 30 years the Southern Section has sanctioned the postseason playoffs.
On Saturday, save for a brief lapse in game one, Laguna owned a Corona del Mar team it had split two matches with during the regular season.
The Breakers also swept the Sea Kings at the Orange County Championships tournament in September.
"We played on all six cylinders," Stewart said of Saturday's performance. "Everybody was steady and solid. Other than a few hiccups in that first game that allowed Corona to get back into the game, I thought we did a great job."
Laguna controlled the match and outplayed Corona del Mar from the start by seizing advantage of poor passing and errant serving by the Sea Kings.
Corona del Mar, however, managed a 9-7 lead in the first game before an 8-2 Laguna run put the Breakers on top, 15-11. The Sea Kings rallied to tie the score at 20 but Laguna scored the final five points to take a 1-0 lead in games.
It didn't get much better in the second game for the Sea Kings, whose only lead came at 1-0. Laguna came up with another big run, this one a 7-1 blitz, that took the Breakers from a 7-6 lead into a 14-7 advantage.
Senior outside hitter/middle blocker Zoe Garrett had three of her match-high 14 kills during the 7-1 run. Laguna was up 23-12 when Corona del Mar went on a 5-0 run, but then scored the final two points to take a commanding edge in the match.
Sophomore setter/defensive specialist Alex Palmer had an outstanding match with near-perfect sets that fueled Laguna's assault. Palmer finished with 25 assists.
"It was nice to see all of our players play well on the big stage," Stewart said.
In the third game, Laguna led 4-2 but went on a 9-1 scoring spree, getting two more kills from Garrett in the process, to take command at 13-3. The Sea Kings could get no closer than nine points the remainder of the match.
Then, the Laguna celebration began.
Garrett didn't play in the Sept. 27 nonleague match loss to Corona del Mar. She came up big at the net Saturday against a Sea Kings squad that hadn't lost a game in three previous playoff victories.
Laguna's balance was evident and dominant throughout the match. Laurielle Hofer had 10 kills, Dana Hutchinson 11 kills and 10 digs, Piper Obradovich seven kills, five digs and two aces, Mychaela Miller 15 assists, six digs, three kills and two aces and Paige Obradovich five digs.
CIF State Div. III Championships
Laguna and Corona del Mar will meet for a fourth time this season when the two square off at 7 p.m. Saturday in the second-round of the State tournament. The Breakers will host the Sea Kings at Dugger Gymnasium.
The winner advances to play in Tuesday's semifinal round. Santa Margarita is the top seed in the bracket.
The second-seeded Breakers (28-5) opened the State tournament Tuesday with a home court sweep of El Diamante of the CIF Central Section. Hutchinson had 10 kills and 11 digs, Garrett 10 kills, Palmer 25 assists and Miller 10 assists in a 25-13, 25-16, 25-10 victory.
Also Tuesday, Corona del Mar earned a road sweep of Redwood in the first-round of the tournament.