A match against a perennial championship contender may not have been the ideal way for the Corona del Mar High boys’ volleyball team to ease into its season.
Then again, once they thought about it some more, there were few things that could get the Sea Kings more excited about starting the season than opening against Los Angeles Loyola.
Senior outside hitter Shane Premer had 20 kills, three service aces and 2½ blocks to lead the host Sea Kings past the Cubs 21-25, 29-27, 21-25, 25-23, 15-8 on Wednesday night in a season opener.
“That was something when we saw our schedule, we were all a little surprised, but then we wanted it because they’re always a good team, and it’s always fun to play those guys,” Premer said. “Going down [after] that first set, we weren’t really sure if we were ready for this kind of competition. We’ve been playing with these guys forever, and we know how to fight back.”
Sea Kings coach Sam Stafford said that blocking and serving set the stage for his team’s comeback. Bryce Dvorak had consecutive aces late in the fourth set to establish a 20-16 lead for CdM.
“Our serve kind of puts us in positions to be more successful on a block,” said Stafford, who gave high marks to the jump serves of Dvorak and Nato Dickinson. “With Bryce’s jump serve, we’re kind of never out of a match if he’s back at the service line. He can rattle off, at any point, a handful of points.”
No team had been able to separate itself from the other until the fifth set, when the Sea Kings came up with four blocks as a team to help put the match away. Justin Browning and Austin Chandler each supplied solo blocks. Glen Linden and Premer were also part of that effort at the net defensively.
“The fifth set was really huge for us,” Linden said. “We just kind of took off, and that’s what we need to do every time because ... we might have been a little rough throughout the first four, but that fifth set, that really secured the win, and that was awesome to have.”
Dvorak distributed 48 assists to go with four total blocks and three aces. Dickinson had 15 kills as the opposite, his last coming with his non-dominant left hand on match point.
“I was just a little late coming in,” said Dickinson, a Long Beach State commit. “It just got a little past me, and I was like, ‘It’s probably going to hit the antenna if I go out there with my right.’
“I was like, ‘[Forget] it. I’ll just go with my left hand and see what happens.’ I tried to put it down a little sharper, but it ended up going a little deep. Luckily, it went in. It’s a good point to end on.”
Linden had 10 kills and 3½ blocks, and Chandler also had four total blocks. Jaden Glenn played libero for the Sea Kings, and he supplied three assists in addition to his defensive and passing duties.
Steve Conti, who stepped down as the head coach of the Sea Kings after they won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and CIF State Division I titles in 2018, has returned to the program as an assistant coach. His son, Braden, is a senior outside hitter on the team, which is on the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 preseason watch list.
“I asked him [if he wanted to coach] and he said yes,” Stafford said. “I figured he would want to coach Braden and this group of seniors one last year. I’m glad he is part of our program again.”
Loyola was led on the night by Stanford-bound Luke Turner, who had a team-high 18 kills and three blocks. Dillon Klein added 17 kills, and Aidan Peters had 10 kills.
Henry Wedbush contributed 52 assists and seven kills for the Cubs, and Ryan Vena chipped in with six kills and three blocks.
The Sea Kings and Cubs are scheduled to meet again on March 12 at Loyola.
“I think both of our programs are in a position where there is a little rivalry between us, based on being able to be successful and play each other,” Stafford said. “We both figured, I think, that the most fair way to determine who the best team is was to play each other on each other’s home court.”
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