Newport Harbor boys’ volleyball survives scare against Los Alamitos in playoff opener
Newport Harbor’s fifth successive trek to the CIF Southern Section’s top-tier semifinals didn’t come simply, but the third-seeded Sailors’ five-set triumph over Los Alamitos provided many rewards.
Luca Curci was everywhere doing everything — nothing new, that — to lead a terrific team performance as Newport Harbor (23-5), Southern California’s top-ranked public-school team, rallied twice from deficits Tuesday night to pull out a home victory and position itself two wins from its fifth CIF boys’ volleyball championship and first in three years.
Curci delivered 23 kills, five blocks, eight digs and four service aces in a 22-25, 25-13, 21-25, 25-16, 15-9 success in the Division 1 quarterfinals that answered the Griffins’ five-set victory in a Sunset Conference crossover match not quite a month ago — Los Alamitos’ first win in the series in 16 meetings, dating to March 2015.
It sets up a showdown Saturday at No. 7 Manhattan Beach Mira Costa (20-9), which overcame a two-set road deficit to upset No. 2 Mater Dei 14-25, 32-34, 27-25, 25-23, 15-7.
Fourth-seeded Beckman (37-3) plays at No. 1 Los Angeles Loyola (20-2) in Saturday’s other Division 1 semifinal.
“We always expect to be [in the final four], but you’ve still got to do the work,” said Sailors head coach Eric Vallely, whose team was playing its first game since completing an unbeaten romp to the Surf League title two weeks earlier. “That’s something we’ve been really focused on lately, having good practices and preparing, and I think that was the big difference for us tonight.”
Junior outside hitter Jake Read contributed 19 kills, seven digs, a block and an ace, and Pepperdine-bound middle blocker James Eadie added nine kills — five in the critical fourth set — to go with six blocks and an ace as Newport Harbor’s serve took the sixth-ranked Griffins (22-9) away from their strength in key moments of a clash of alternating momentum.
Sophomore outside hitter Riggs Guy (seven digs, three blocks, one ace), senior libero Sean McCarthy (11 digs, seven assists), senior setter Cole McKibbin (52 assists, one block, one ace), and senior defensive specialist Hudson Vaicek (eight straight points won on serve in the fourth set) also played vital roles.
Everyone was needed to overcome what might be Los Alamitos’ finest contingent. The Wave League champions relied heavily on USC-bound outside hitter Noah Roberts, who spiked 23 kills — a half-dozen of them from the back row. Sophomore outside hitter Jette Estes added 10 kills, junior opposite Nate Baddeley provided seven kills, and UC Irvine-bound setter Aidan Schultan had four aces and two kills.
The sting of the Griffins’ 18-25, 23-25, 26-24, 27-25, 15-10 home upset on April 5 provided added spice for Newport Harbor, which used 13-3 and 8-2 runs en route to the second-set triumph, an 18-3 surge to take command in the fourth set, and an 8-2 run to pull away in the fifth.
“I didn’t really want to lose to them, especially because it was a little chirpy [in the last meeting],” said UCLA-bound outside hitter Curci, who made sure Eadie heard about the Bruins’ NCAA-tournament win Tuesday over Pepperdine. “After losing at their house, we couldn’t lose. For the seniors to lose this early [in the playoffs] is not good, so we just wanted to win.
“We were really off and on, but when we were on, you could tell we were the better team. When we were playing stronger, we played really well. Our serves were great tonight, just helped us through the whole thing.”
The Sailors had to adjust to Roberts and middle blocker Beck Weber. They struggled to contain Roberts — “a phenomenal player [who is] going to get his, no matter what,” Vallely said — but were able to neutralize Weber, largely through service.
“Those guys posed real matchup problems for us, and we were kicking and screaming, trying to find a way to slow them down ...,” said Vallely, whose team beat Los Alamitos in straight sets in a Best in the West Tournament clash in early March. “The guys served really tough, we played some good defense tonight, and really did a good job taking care of those transitional opportunities coming out of our defense. That was the big difference from our side to their side. ...
“I [was pleased with] our resiliency. The sets we lost, we didn’t play well, but we responded and bounced back well. I think that’s a big thing to draw upon going forward, that even if we get down a few points, we’re not out. We just got to keep on fighting.”
Newport Harbor swept Mira Costa in a March 21 nonleague meeting, but the Bay League champions, which beat Corona del Mar in four sets in a first-round match Thursday, head into Saturday’s encounter with what could be a transformative performance at Mater Dei.
Vallely’s focus isn’t on the Mustangs.
“Right now, for me, it’s about us,” he said. “We’ll prepare, we’ll be ready, but it’s about us. The key is taking care of business on our side. There are some matchup things that we’ll go look at and prepare for, but ultimately, if we’re together and playing well, things usually work out well.”
Also in the CIF Southern Section boys’ volleyball playoffs:
Beckman 3, Huntington Beach 2: The Oilers battled back from down a set twice, but it was the No. 4-seeded Patriots that walked away with a 25-22, 22-25, 25-15, 26-28, 15-11 win on Tuesday in a Division 1 quarterfinal match at Beckman High School.
Huntington Beach (19-11) was the second-place team out of the Surf League this season.
Beckman (37-3), the Pacific Coast League champion, plays at top-seeded Los Angeles Loyola (20-2) in the semifinals on Saturday.
Staff writer Andrew Turner contributed to this report.
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