The Corona del Mar High girls’ volleyball team was not short on motivation heading into Thursday’s season opener against Trabuco Hills.
It was the Mustangs who upset the No. 2-seeded Sea Kings in five sets last year in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, ending CdM’s season. Trabuco Hills made it all the way to the Division 2 final, where it fell to Los Alamitos — a team that CdM had beaten twice in four sets in Surf League play.
“It was really bitter to think that we could have gotten there,” CdM senior outside hitter Nikki Senske said. “But it was fun this year just to come back with a strong start.”
The Sea Kings lost that playoff match last year on the road. On Thursday night, they were at home, and they pulled away for a 25-23, 23-25, 25-20, 25-13 victory.
Junior outside hitter Molly Joyce had a match-high 15 kills for CdM in the debut of Sam Stafford as girls’ head coach. Senske, the team captain, added 12 kills.
Stafford, who became the CdM boys’ volleyball head coach last spring, also took over the girls’ job after Steve Astor resigned to become a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Washington. Stafford said he mostly liked what he saw in the Sea Kings’ opener.
CdM had nine service aces, led by Senske and junior setter Bella Pouliot with three each.
“There were obviously some things we needed to get better at, but luckily a lot of them are fixable things,” Stafford said. “I think we’re going to go the way we serve and pass, like a lot of volleyball teams. Nikki and Molly played well, [senior libero] Michelle [Won] settled in, Bella settled in a little bit and played better and better as the match went. I thought we were able to put a lot of service pressure on them and either score some easy points or get them out of system. Then we were able to win some rallies, which was good.”
Trabuco Hills (1-1) won the last two points of the second set, as a CdM net violation and an ace by junior libero Julia Ng allowed the visitors to squeak out a 25-23 win and even the match at one set apiece. But the Sea Kings went back to work.
Senske served five straight points from 10-10 in the third set, including an ace, as CdM built a lead. Trabuco Hills pulled within 20-18, but back-to-back kills from Joyce and Senske provided some separation.
The fourth set was even smoother for CdM, which is learning to adjust without 6-foot-5 outside hitter Kendall Kipp, last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year who graduated and is now at Stanford.
“You could pretty much throw a set up, and she would get it,” Pouliot said of playing with Kipp. “It’s a lot different, because she was one of the key players. Now we spread it out more, which I think is good. A lot of people didn’t really get a chance to hit last year, because it was more focused on Kendall hitting.”
Senior opposite Megan Fisk had eight kills for CdM, which got nine digs from Won. Senior middle blocker Molly Boyle teamed up with Joyce on three different blocks.
Junior outside hitter Jenna Walsh led Trabuco Hills with 10 kills, and senior middle blocker Kiana Stradford had nine kills and three blocks.
The Sea Kings return to action on Aug. 29 with a nonleague match at Los Angeles Marymount. Last year, the Sailors beat CdM in four sets in the regular season and went on to make the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and CIF Southern California Regional Open Division title matches, losing to Mater Dei each time.
“It should be a good match for us,” Stafford said. “It’s a fun place to play for us too, up there.”
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