CdM boys’ volleyball falls short at Mira Costa

Corona del Mar's Sterling Foley (11), seen against Edison on April 24, had 19 kills against Mira Costa on Saturday.
(James Carbone)

Corona del Mar had no answer for Manhattan Beach Mira Costa at the start, and not enough the rest of the way, and so its bid for successive CIF Southern Section boys’ volleyball title showdowns is kaput.

The third-seeded Sea Kings quickly ceded control of the Pool B decider in the Division 1 playoffs, and, despite hanging gamely with their second-seeded hosts over the next three sets, never really recovered in a 25-12, 25-21, 19-25, 25-22 defeat that leaves next weekend’s top-tier championship clash without a Newport Beach team for the first time in a decade.

Mira Costa (35-3) went on eight- and nine-point runs, the latter to close the first set, to knock CdM (23-7) onto its heels, then showed off a superior finishing touch en route to a romp that sets up a face-off with top-seeded Los Angeles Loyola (30-1-1) on May 11 at Cerritos College.


Corona del Mar, which lost to archrival Newport Harbor in last year’s Division 1 final, awaits the beginning of CIF State Southern California Regional play the following week. Loyola, which lost to CdM at this stage last year, went on to win the regional crown, beating Southern Section champ Newport Harbor in the final.

“They outplayed us,” said USC-bound outside hitter Sterling Foley, who led the Sea Kings with 19 kills and fed their takeover of the third set with three straight kills. “We in the first two sets didn’t look like we wanted to play. We were playing like we were trying not to lose. I don’t know, we looked kind of scared.

“[Mira Costa] played a great game. We came back in the third. Fourth was pretty close, but [this was] not the outcome we wanted.”

Long Beach State-bound outside hitter Victor Loiola, Foley’s teammate with the U.S. under-19 national squad, delivered 18 kills and three blocks, freshman Mateo Fuerbringer contributed 12 kills, and middle blocker Alex Heins and outside hitter Stone Seligson added nine kills apiece as the Mustangs’ wider array of weaponry applied heavy pressure throughout.

“Mira Costa, we know they’re an exceptional team, and they really came out from the start,” Corona del Mar coach Katey Thompson said. “They had a lot of momentum, it carried them a long way, and they continued to build on it. They’re a very difficult team to defend, and then they were firing on all cylinders. ...

“It was just our effort approach in the first set [that I was unhappy about]. We didn’t try to fight back that control, and they were controlling it from all angles. I thought we responded very well [after that]. I thought we were right there, just couldn’t finish.”

Mira Costa, which will seek its ninth Southern Section title in the sport and first since sweeping Newport Harbor three years ago, has been untouchable since back-to-back nonleague losses in late March to Loyola and at CdM. Head coach Greg Snyder overhauled his offensive system after the first, debuted it without a practice session in a four-set defeat against the Sea Kings, and it has led to 13 wins in a row since, never going beyond four games.

“When we lost those [two matches], our team was struggling mentally ... like are we as good as we think we are? We had to do some soul searching and respond,” Snyder said. “I never had a doubt, in terms of the talent we have. I know we have the talent to win it all, it was a matter of putting those pieces in the right spot.”

Things were clicking beautifully in the first set, when the Mustangs, fueled by three Fuerbringer kills and two aces from USC-bound libero Johnny Dykstra, stormed to 9-1 and 10-2 leads. Corona del Mar, which last won a Southern Section title in 2018, its 10th, pulled within four points before a 9-0 run closed the set with a Zach Chapin ace.

The Sea Kings scored the first five points of the second set, but a 6-1 Mira Costa tear made it 8-8, and the teams traded leads, with CdM edging ahead, 19-18, before a 7-2 run — Loiola with two kills and a set-ending ace — left the home side one set from victory.

Corona del Mar pulled out the third set, taking a 10-8 lead on the three Foley kills, extending the advantage four times to three points, then scoring the last five as middle blocker Reid McMullen followed a block with a kill and Ryan Gant served up an ace. The Sea Kings might have forced a fifth set, but a strong start to the fourth dissipated down the stretch, with Mira Costa scoring 14 of the last 22 points to end any suspense.

“When there’s something shiny on the line, these guys really step up and want those little jewels and prizes and trophies and plaques,” said Snyder, whose team is 31-0 this season when playing for something concrete. “There’s a different intensity and a different mindset when there’s something like that on the line. ...

“When [CdM] went on a run, I feel like it was us trying to do too much rather than them outplaying us. When we played within ourselves, we were comfortable in controlling the match, for the most part, I thought.”

Loyola (29-1), which beat visiting Newport Harbor, 3-1, to win Pool A, has won a dozen Southern Section volleyball championships, the last in 2016. The Cubs supplanted Mira Costa atop the Division 1 and 2 combined rankings following their victory in March.

“I feel like [Loyola vs. Mira Costa] is the way it should be,” Snyder said. “I know I want another shot at Loyola. I know our boys want another shot at Loyola. And I honestly think those are the two best teams in CIF Southern Section, so I think it’s only right that these two teams earn their way to play each other.”

CdM, which got seven kills from Brady Gant and six from freshman middle blocker Daniel Booker, will be awaiting them when regional play begins.

“I think they’ll bounce back,” Thompson said. “They’re very invested. We should have a good showing in state, as well.”

Said Foley: “We’re going to have a hard week of practice this week, I’ll tell you that.”

Also in the CIF Southern Section playoffs:

Huntington Beach 3, Mater Dei 0: The Oilers earned the straight-sets win at home to place second in the Pool A standings of the Division 1 playoffs.

Huntington Beach improved to 28-6.

Los Angeles Loyola 3, Newport Harbor 1: Senior outside hitter Sean Kelly had 36 kills and four aces to lead the host Cubs past the Sailors 18-25, 25-23, 25-18, 29-27 on Saturday to advance to the Division 1 final on May 11.

Newport Harbor (27-8) went 1-2 to finish third in Pool A.

Edison 3, Tesoro 1: The Chargers pulled off the road upset to earn their lone win in the Pool B round robin of the Division 1 playoffs.

Edison (17-14) finished third in the group.

Riverside Poly 3, Costa Mesa 1: Dimitri Downs and Justin Foreman each had 10 kills, but the visiting Mustangs lost 25-16, 18-25, 29-27, 25-10 in a Division 6 semifinal on Saturday.

Costa Mesa (16-10) was seeking to reach a CIF final for the second time in program history. The first came in 2006.

Chris Rivera had 19 digs, and Phi An Vo added 18 digs for Costa Mesa.

Riverside Poly (25-9) will host Samueli Academy (27-3) in the championship match on Friday at 6 p.m.

Staff writer Andrew Turner contributed to this report.