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Newport Harbor upsets Huntington Beach, trio tied for first place in Surf League

Newport Harbor celebrates after beating Huntington Beach in a Surf League match on Thursday in Huntington Beach.
Newport Harbor celebrates after beating Huntington Beach in a Surf League match on Thursday in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The girls’ volleyball competition in the Sunset Conference is tough enough, but when coupled with the abbreviated six-game slate in league play, each match carries great weight.

Less than two weeks removed from a straight-sets defeat at the hands of Huntington Beach High in the Dave Mohs Tournament, Newport Harbor found itself in the unenviable position of facing the Oilers again on the road, this time to stay in contention for the Surf League crown.

Anabel Kotzakov had a match-high 26 kills, as the Sailors earned a 17-25, 26-24, 25-18, 25-21 victory on Thursday to forge a three-way tie atop the Surf League through the first half of league play.

Newport Harbor's Anabel Kotzakov hits against Huntington Beach's Taylor Ponchak during a Surf League match on Thursday.
Newport Harbor’s Anabel Kotzakov hits against Huntington Beach’s Taylor Ponchak during a Surf League girls’ volleyball match on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“We came in knowing that we had to win because if we didn’t, we would have either been third or last in league, so we knew we had to win,” said Kotzakov, who added 11 digs, three service aces and three blocks. “We were honestly a little bit nervous at first because they did beat us in a tournament, but it’s OK because we pulled through. We played really well, and we crushed them in four [sets].”

Newport Harbor (11-4, 2-1) pulled into a deadlock with Huntington Beach (22-3, 2-1) — ranked seventh in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 combined poll — and Los Alamitos (19-6, 2-1) with three league games remaining.

Kotzakov had quite a week, amassing a career-high 31 kills in a win over Laguna Beach on Tuesday.

Newport Harbor's Laine Briggs digs a ball during a Surf League girls' volleyball match against Huntington Beach on Thursday.
Newport Harbor’s Laine Briggs digs out a ball during a Surf League girls’ volleyball match against Huntington Beach on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I was surprised, honestly,” Kotzakov said of the sterling offensive performance. “I didn’t think it was that many, but when [Coach Andrew] Mabry was like, ‘Anabel Kotzakov 31 kills,’ I was shocked. It felt awesome.”

Laine Briggs fired off 21 kills to go with 13 digs and three aces for Newport Harbor. Malia Thorne also had 11 kills and three blocks.

The Sailors thrived off strong defense from their back row. Newport Harbor had 50 digs as a team, helping to spur Drue Coberly to a 38-assist night. Tegan Glenn added 14 assists, six digs and four kills.

Newport Harbor's Anabel Kotzakov attempts to block a shot against Huntington Beach's Taylor Ponchak on Thursday.
Newport Harbor’s Anabel Kotzakov attempts to block a shot against Huntington Beach’s Taylor Ponchak during a Surf League girls’ volleyball match on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I can’t speak enough about our group and just the resilience that they showed,” Mabry said. “To lose that first set on the road and to kind of battle back and keep chipping away and take advantage of some opportunities.

“That’s one of those matches that it’s never comfortable. You know that there’s runs coming on both sides of the net, and I thought it was a really high-level good match.”

Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti said he felt his team did not pass the ball up to their standards, which contributed to the Oilers’ demise. He did give high marks to Kami Milius, a serving substitute who helped bring Huntington Beach back from a 24-20 deficit in the second set.

Newport Harbor's Fiona Gaffney dives for a ball during a Surf League girls' volleyball match against Huntington Beach.
Newport Harbor’s Fiona Gaffney dives for a ball during a Surf League girls’ volleyball match against Huntington Beach on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“Second set, got us to even at 24-24,” Pazanti said. “She made a couple of really nice digs, and that’s not easy when you’re a serving sub and you’re just kind of waiting there the whole set. It turned out she was literally serving on set point every set.”

Taylor Ponchak paced Huntington Beach with 19 kills. Haylee LaFontaine added 14 kills, and Kylie Leopard also had 11 kills. Dani Sparks contributed 44 assists and 10 digs. Libero Tori Hagan provided 18 digs defensively and Olivia Foye also had 14 digs.

Huntington Beach was coming off a tournament title in the La Jolla Coastal Classic, for which Sparks was the MVP. Hagan made the all-tournament team.

Newport Harbor's Malia Thorne, left, and Laine Briggs block a ball against Huntington Beach on Thursday.
Newport Harbor’s Malia Thorne, left, and Laine Briggs block a ball during a Surf League girls’ volleyball match against Huntington Beach on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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