Life as a USC student-athlete has started for recent Corona del Mar High graduate Brandon Browning.
When he reflects on his time with the CdM boys’ volleyball team, Browning has many happy memories, especially the ones created in May.
The outside hitter helped his Sea Kings win the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I championships, with both of those wins coming against rival Newport Harbor.
The Back Bay schools met four times this spring, with the Sailors carrying a 32-0 record heading into the section final. Browning had 21 kills in the Division 1 final, as CdM broke through. The Sea Kings repeated as section champions with a thrilling 23-25, 25-15, 25-23, 23-25, 15-13 victory.
In the regional final, Browning led the Sea Kings with 13 kills in a 25-16, 25-21, 25-19 sweep of the Sailors.
Two late wins against previously undefeated Newport Harbor propelled CdM to the top of the national poll, as ranked by MaxPreps.com. The Sea Kings finished 34-4 overall and 10-0 in the Pacific Coast League.
There is much for Browning to take from his time at CdM, but he says the teachings of Sea Kings coach Steve Conti will serve him best at the next level. He said Conti does not sugarcoat anything, calling him “straight truthful.”
“I think that’s really important in life, in general,” Browning said. “You need to be realistic with yourself, and you need to know when you need to step it up and really kind of be aware of the situation, what you need to do and what you don’t need to do.
“I think that is really going to help at the next level, just kind of be able to grind and not really need props from anyone.”
Coming off a section championship as a junior, the time had come for Browning to step up. The Sea Kings had said goodbye to Dream Team middle blockers Mitch Haly and Jake Meyer as a result of graduation.
When this season began, it was noticeable that Browning had been making physical gains.
“Starting this year and a little bit of my junior year, I started doing [weight training] on my own,” Browning said. “I went from doing nothing extra to trying to get in there every day of the week or six days a week, really, anything I could to try to better myself.”
Browning had always prided himself on his all-around game, particularly his passing. He improved offensively as a senior, leaving his fingerprints all over the Sea Kings’ championship run.
“I think at one point, people kind of questioned how hard he hit the ball, how high above the net he could play,” Conti said of Browning. “It goes back to how he dedicated himself in the weight room. I think he did add a little bit onto his vertical jump. He was more physical at the net, and he definitely hit a heavier ball this year by far.”
The 6-foot-4 Browning was named the CIF Southern Section Division 1 Player of the Year. He also received first-team All-Orange County accolades and shared the Pacific Coast League MVP honor.
Browning led the Sea Kings with 292 kills and 57 service aces. He also had 114 digs and 34 blocks.
This year’s CdM team became the second in program history to win a section and regional championship in the same season. They joined the 2011 team, which won section and regional titles in Division 2 and Division II, respectively.
Browning called all of the honors he has received “special,” because it showed his hard work has paid off. Conti could not agree more.
“Come crunch time, he really elevated his game,” Conti said. “I knew that he was really primed to be able to do that because I felt this year was the hardest that he had worked in the weight room. The longer the rallies went when he was younger, I think he would lose a little bit off of his jump each attempt. This year, he was kind of able to sustain that, through long rallies, through a fifth game against Newport Harbor.
“I think he prepared for those moments by the way that he worked during the offseason this year.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Corona del Mar
As a program, the Sea Kings have played in 16 CIF Southern Section championship matches. For the first time in its storied history, CdM won back-to-back section titles. The Sea Kings faced Back Bay rival Newport Harbor four times this season. Newport Harbor won the first two to carry a perfect record into the Division 1 final, but CdM did more than even the season series in winning the next two. The Sea Kings’ wins over the Sailors came in the section and regional finals. Newport Harbor finished second in the national rankings. “Not everything went the way that we hoped it would have gone early in the season, but by the end of the season, I think that adversity kind of made us stronger in the end,” Conti said. “It allowed us to play our best volleyball when our best volleyball was needed.”
OH | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Bollinger, who is now at Long Beach State, packed a punch, blasting an area-best 461 kills this season. The outside hitter could strike from anywhere, as Oilers coach Craig Pazanti was always looking for ways to set the 6-foot-2 senior out of the back row. Huntington Beach limited runs with its serve receive, as Bollinger complemented libero Grant Guinasso well in getting the ball to setter Aidan Knipe. The Oilers (27-6, 8-2) reached the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals for a sixth straight season, notching five-set victories over Laguna Beach and Westlake before bowing out against eventual champion CdM. The first-team All-Sunset League and All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection also had 122 digs, 40 aces and 37 total blocks.
MB | Corona del Mar | Sr.
Once a student at CdM during middle school, the former Mater Dei Monarch returned to the Back Bay for his senior season to play alongside those with whom he had first learned the game. The 6-foot-4 middle blocker filled a big void left by the graduations of former Dream Team middle blockers Mitch Haly and Jake Meyer. Hicks provided the Sea Kings with an infusion of energy. While CdM had won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title the year prior, Hicks proved to be a crucial cog in the repeat effort. He had a match-high 24 kills on .618 hitting in the championship match against Newport Harbor. Hicks garnered recognition as an All-Pacific Coast League, All-Orange County and All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 performer. The UC Santa Barbara signee had 172 kills and 31 blocks.
S | Newport Harbor | Jr.
After winning back-to-back Sunset League titles beginning in 2016, the Sailors had loftier goals this year. Following a win at Laguna Beach in the season opener, Karlous unabashedly spoke of those ambitions. He said that the team’s goal was to “win everything.” The Sailors came awfully close, winning their first 32 matches of the season before dropping a five-setter to rival CdM in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 final. Karlous found ways to keep an array of hitters happy, a list that included Cole Pender (UCLA), Ethan Talley (Ohio State), Dayne Chalmers (UCSB) and Jack Higgs. The second-year starter and first-team All-Sunset League performer handed out 1,008 assists in guiding the Sailors (34-2, 10-0 in league) to the section and regional championship matches. He added 121 digs, 15 solo blocks and 10 aces.
OPP | Corona del Mar | Sr.
The Battle of the Bay featured the top two teams in the nation this year. Even in the star-studded matchup, Kobrine’s physical gifts stood out. The 6-foot-4 opposite had a lengthy wingspan, and his vertical leap earned him the nickname of “Skywalker.” Kobrine’s athleticism could change a match, and so could his ball-striking ability. Sea Kings coach Steve Conti once compared the ball coming off Kobrine’s right hand to a lightning strike. Kobrine was named the Orange County Player of the Year, and he also was an all-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection and shared the Pacific Coast League MVP award. He had 227 kills, 119 digs, 59 blocks and 51 aces. Kobrine joins his brother, Sam, with the UCLA men’s volleyball program.
OH | Newport Harbor | Sr.
A four-time Dream Team selection, Pender was the heart and soul of a tremendous Newport Harbor side. The Sailors nearly ran the table this season, suffering their first loss in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship match. Pender will be remembered as a player who would run through a wall for his team, as he crashed into press row in an attempt to save a ball in the fourth set of the final. His all-around game led the Sailors to a third consecutive Sunset League title, and he was named the MVP. The 6-foot-3 outside hitter also received All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 and All-Orange County first team honors. The UCLA signee had 327 kills on .359 hitting, adding 161 digs, 48 aces, 25 assists and 13 solo blocks.
MB | Newport Harbor | Sr.
Talley was a staple of Newport Harbor’s success rate in recent seasons. The four-year starter showed off the weapons that he has developed in his time with the Sailors. The 6-foot-7 middle blocker finished well, converting his sets into 155 kills on .558 hitting. A high-risk serve boomed off his right hand, and its sinking action netted him 26 aces. He also had 31 solo blocks and 65 block assists. The Ohio State-bound Talley was an All-Sunset League, All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 and All-Orange County first-team performer.
L | Edison | Jr.
Edison did not possess the same amount of firepower of Sunset League opponents Newport Harbor and Huntington Beach. Still, the Chargers found a way to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, thanks in large part to their ability to extend points. Power, a UCLA commit at libero, had a team-high 284 digs, with Matt Palma providing a helping hand with 217 digs. A losing record in nonleague matches meant that the Chargers had to secure a top-three spot in the league. Power did whatever was necessary to help his team accomplish that, even setting a couple of matches. The first-team All-Sunset League selection set for Edison in its most efficient match of the year, with the Chargers (11-14, 6-4 in league) producing a hitting percentage of .392 against Marina. Power also had 26 aces.
Position, Name, School, Year
OPP Geste Bianchi, Laguna Beach, So.
OH Samuel Burgi, Laguna Beach, Sr.
OH Dayne Chalmers, Newport Harbor, Jr.
L Diego Perez, Corona del Mar, Sr.
MB Tyler Flood, Corona del Mar, Sr.
L Grant Guinasso, Huntington Beach, Sr.
S Aidan Knipe, Huntington Beach, Jr.
S Hunter Miller, Ocean View, Jr.