Sea Kings romp into quarters

Daily Pilot

CORONA DEL MAR — A newly condensed CIF Southern Section playoff schedule is a pressing concern for any boys' volleyball team battling health issues. But, having to play potentially four matches in eight days to earn a berth in the Division I final may generate more harmony than harm for Corona del Mar High.

The No. 2-seeded Sea Kings showed Thursday night that fewer breaks between matches might enhance the crispness with which they have now dispatched their first two playoff opponents.

Visiting Dos Pueblos was the latest victim, as Coach Steve Conti's squad produced a 25-15, 25-17, 25-17 sweep in which the Sea Kings trailed only once.

The victory propels CdM (22-8) into Saturday's quarterfinals at Edison.

CdM has played Edison twice before this season, winning, 25-22, 23-25, 18-16, in the semifinals of the Orange County Championships at Edison on March 20 and dropping a March 26 nonleague match, 23-25, 23-25, 25-17, 25-18, 15-11, on the Chargers' floor.

The Dos Pueblos Chargers, however, couldn't manage more than a mild advance against the Sea Kings. The visitors (20-9) fell behind, 6-1, and trailed by as many as 11 in the opening game.

In Game 2, Dos Pueblos claimed its only lead at 3-2, and CdM built a lead as high as eight points.

In the finale, CdM led, 5-1, and led by as many as nine before sending the visitors on their way a little more than an hour after the match began.

"CdM can play volleyball at a very high level and it shows in their record," Dos Pueblos Coach Chris Hughes said. "[Conti] and I are good buddies and I told him 'You have a really good chance this year [to win it all].' "

If they continue to play as they have in a 12-match winning streak, the Sea Kings could indeed be tough to beat.

"We've definitely improved a lot throughout the season and, hopefully, we're playing our best volleyball right now," Conti said. "This is when you want to try to be playing your best volleyball. This team has really grown. We've had a lot of individuals, but an area where we've really grown is as a team and the players really care about each other and you can kind of see it in the way that we play."

The Sea Kings were efficient on offense, scrappy on defense and also appeared to have the mentality Conti preaches.

"I've been very happy," Conti said when asked about his team's postseason mind-set. "The first-round Mission Viejo match was a concern. [The Diablos] were a fourth-place team, but they were also a team that made it to the semis of the Orange County Championships.

"Dos Pueblos is a league champion from the Channel League, which is always a tough league and Coach Hughes does a really good job with his guys. I think we just played really good volleyball. I thought our execution was good. It just wasn't the hitting, I thought we scrapped hard for a lot of balls, too. In Game 2, there were some balls that were dug in the back of the gym that we ran down. That's kind of got to be our manta. We've got to scratch and crawl for every single point. Whether we're up, 20-10, or down, 10-20, that's got to be our approach and I think the guys are really buying into that."

Senior Weston Nielsen, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter bound for UC Santa Barbara, had 11 kills and was in on four blocks for the winners.

Senior Joey Booth, a 6-5 outside hitter bound for USC, added nine kills and had two aces.

Conti said Nielsen was sidelined briefly last week with a leg injury.

Booth also missed time last week, then strained a shoulder in the sweep against Mission Viejo and was unable to practice Wednesday.

"[The new playoff schedule, created in order to leave time for Southern California Regional competition after section champions are crowned] doesn't really give you much recovery time, if you have injuries," Conti said. "But if you're playing well, the good thing is, there is not a long time to get cool. So it's pick your poison."

Sophomore Parker Brown had 15 assists, four kills, two aces and two block assists, while junior Nick Curci had 14 assists for the winners.

Senior middle blocker Spencer Haly had five kills and was in on three blocks, while junior middle Evan Dean was in on five blocks and chipped in four kills.

Senior John Christian had two kills and junior Chip Zucker had two aces to help CdM advance.

When asked if he had any quibble, Conti found something with which to keep his players humble.

"I thought our passing could have been a little bit better," Conti said. "We've been pretty successful hitting when we were out of system and that's good. But as we move through this [CIF] tournament, we're going to need to be able to pass more consistently and stay in system."

CIF playoffs Dos Pueblos…2CdM…3

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