The Corona del Mar High boys’ volleyball team handed rival Newport Harbor its first loss of the season Wednesday night in a Surf League match.
Three days later, the Sea Kings were back at it at Huntington Beach on Saturday afternoon.
This win was also extremely significant, and not just for bragging rights.
Corona del Mar clinched one of the league’s two automatic berths into the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs after sweeping the Oilers, 25-23, 25-19, 25-23.
Seniors Nick Alacano and Adam Flood had 13 and nine kills, respectively, to lead the Sea Kings (19-7, 4-1 in league), who are tied for first in league with Newport Harbor with one match left. CdM, ranked No. 7 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning at Laguna Beach on Tuesday night.
“It feels really good to get these two wins and get ready for CIF,” Alacano said. “It’s my senior year and I’m just wanting to end it on a good note, make sure we go far as a team.”
No. 6-ranked Huntington Beach (22-7, 1-3) closes out league with a road match at Laguna Beach on Monday and a home match against Newport Harbor on Tuesday. The Oilers can finish no better than third place.
With only the top two teams getting automatic playoff spots, that puts them in a tricky position. Coach Craig Pazanti said it is unknown whether at-large berths into the draw will be available.
“It’s supposed to be the top  teams, but it’s pretty ambiguous what’s going on,” Pazanti said. “We haven’t been lower than No. 7 in CIF since the third week of the season, and we’ve been as high as No. 2. You have all four teams in the league, including Laguna [Beach], in the top . Then you have other leagues where you have teams that are under .500 both in league and overall, but they’re in an automatic qualifying spot. I just think it’s a flawed process if you don’t put the best teams in Division 1 for CIF. We’ve just got to do our best to finish the season strong and hope there’s a spot for us in the playoffs.”
The Oilers led late in each of the first two sets but could not put away the Sea Kings. Corona del Mar rallied from a 20-17 deficit in Game 1, winning it on a kill by Flood. Huntington Beach led Game 2 by an 18-17 score, before CdM ended it on an 8-1 run.
“It was great to see,” CdM coach Sam Stafford said. “Finishing strong and being able to make plays when we need to make plays, it’s obviously good to know we can do that.”
Pazanti said senior setter and three-year starter Aidan Knipe played Saturday with an abdominal issue, but he also credited the Sea Kings.
“We’re not finishing games, not playing consistent enough against the good teams,” he said. “They played hard. They played their butts off. I mean, they outworked us, and that tended to be the difference.”
CdM, which had junior Shane Premer contribute eight kills, led 19-14 in Game 3 before the hosts began to rally. Junior outside Niko Colburn scored three straight points – on two kills and a won joust at the net – to tie the score at 21-21.
But Huntington Beach could not take the lead. Senior outside Sinjin Choi, who had 10 kills, was another standout player for the Oilers.
“He added a little bit of energy, which he normally doesn’t,” Pazanti said. “He’s always a pretty quiet kid, and I think he kind of sensed that we needed that. He stepped up from a vocal standpoint more than he ever has.”
Pazanti wasn’t afraid to be vocal about Huntington Beach – which has made at least the Division 1 quarterfinals in six straight seasons – deserving to make it back to the postseason. For that matter, neither was Stafford.