This time last year, Corona del Mar High Coach Steve Conti and Newport Harbor Coach Dan Glenn aimed high.
Each man believed their respective boys' volleyball programs had a legitimate shot to win the CIF Southern Section Division I title.
Neither came close. Conti and Glenn saw their teams bow out early in the playoffs.
The two coaches are back at it, trying to convince their teams that they can make a run at the crown. The first test starts today.
CdM and Newport Harbor open the first round at home. The second-seeded Sea Kings (20-8) play Mission Viejo (16-12), while the Sailors (18-9) face Millikan (8-17). Each match is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Sage Hill School is the third Newport-Mesa area program competing in the postseason. The Lightning (14-9) play host to West Valley Christian (14-3) tonight at 7.
Each of the three local boys' teams have the coaches to guide them to the top. Conti and Glenn have done it in the past. Thomassen has come close.
While the Sea Kings and Sailors last season suffered second- and first-round exits, respectively, Thomassen led the Lightning to the semifinals.
Glenn previously led Newport Harbor to the Division I title match in 2008, while Conti helped CdM win the Division II championship in 2007.
Division I is more difficult.
"Whoever wins Division I will be a true champion," said Conti, referring to nationally ranked programs like Mira Costa, CdM, Loyola and Esperanza competing in the top division. "Don't be surprised if you see some good teams lose in the first or second round. It's going to happen."
Conti doesn't expect the Sea Kings to go home early. They're coming off a huge five-game victory against Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay on Friday.
The match is always an emotional one. The win ensured CdM a No. 2 seed and eliminated Newport Harbor from receiving one of the top four seeds.
Looking at the playoff pairings, Glenn believes Newport Harbor's first-round match isn't as dangerous as CdM's. The Sailors, who finished runner-up in the Sunset League, play the third-place team from the Moore League.
The Sea Kings face Mission Viejo after it defeated Trabuco Hills in a wild-card match Monday. The Diablos reached the semifinals of the Orange County Championships.
"That's a real tough draw for a second seed," Glenn said. "Mission Viejo has probably the best player [Spencer Rowe] in the county and he's going to UCLA. They're one of the biggest teams in the playoffs.
"I would rather have our [first-round] opponent than their opponent."
Conti said he couldn't control the draw. One thing he can control is having his players prepared.
Last season, the Sea Kings' first year back in Division I, Conti said his team relied on one or two players. The result: CdM lost in the second round at Mater Dei.
The Sea Kings now feature many weapons.
There's UC Santa Barbara-bound outside hitter Weston Nielsen, USC-bound outside hitter Joey Booth, opposite/setter Parker Brown and middle blocker Evan Dean.
The Sea Kings have competed against the best in Division I, from Loyola, to Newport Harbor, to Edison, to Santa Margarita. CdM is also one of the lone California teams to have played the team ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN RISE, Punahou of Honolulu, Hawaii, twice this season.
"Even though we lost both times, those matches made us tougher," Conti said.
The Sailors and Sea Kings can possibly meet in the semis. Glenn said his Newport Harbor team, led by UCLA-bound setter Jackson Carmack, USC-bound middle blocker Will Connelly, Penn State-bound libero Connor Curry and standout junior opposite Cody Caldwell, isn't looking that far ahead.
"Not after last year's ambush," said Glenn, whose team was upset at home by St. John Bosco in the first round. "Last year we had a big winning streak heading into the playoffs, beat CdM for the city championship, and all of a sudden, everything came crashing down.
"We would have to beat some really good teams [to make the semis]. Any team can beat any team on this level."