For the first time all season, the Newport Harbor High boys’ volleyball team found itself down by two sets on Thursday night.
It just so happened that the Sailors faced this adversity in what could have been the final match for six of their seven regular rotation players.
The Sailors were not prepared to let that happen in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I semifinals against Los Angeles Loyola.
“Before the third set, all the seniors kind of came in and said, ‘Hey, this could be our last game in the gym. Let’s not make that happen,’” Sailors senior outside hitter Jack Higgs said. “We kind of set our minds at that point, and then went from there.”
Senior outside hitter Dayne Chalmers had 27 kills and four blocks, and top-seeded Newport Harbor rallied to defeat No. 4 Loyola 27-29, 24-26, 25-19, 25-13, 15-9 to advance to the regional final for the second year in a row.
Newport Harbor (38-1) will host No. 3 Manhattan Mira Costa (25-6) in a rematch of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 final on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Mustangs swept No. 2 Palisades 25-22, 25-15, 25-20 to reach the regional championship match.
“Everyone gets another shot at us,” Sailors coach Rocky Ciarelli said. “I think there is a lot of incentive for the teams getting to play us again. There’s no doubt about it. One thing I’ll say about this group. All year, they’ve been pretty steady.”
Joe Karlous had 51 assists, 2½ blocks and two service aces for the Sailors. Caden Garrido had 14 kills and 6½ blocks, Alec Patterson had four kills and four blocks, and Higgs chipped in with eight kills, three blocks and three aces.
“They’re always so much fun,” the Pepperdine-bound Karlous said of five-set matches. “Those are the ones that you remember for a long time.”
Establishing the block keyed the comeback for the Sailors. Newport Harbor had 21 blocks as a team.
“I kept telling them, ‘Look, it’s basically a fundamental game right now,’” Ciarelli said. “‘We keep the block solid and dig behind it, we’re going to get our share of kills.’
“That’s basically what happened. The kids did it. Sometimes, it’s a simple game.”
Blake Ludes added eight kills, 1½ blocks and an ace, and Ryan Schroeder contributed 15 digs to help the Sailors mount the comeback.
Garrido said that Ciarelli, who is in his final season as a coach, had another piece of advice to impart to his team when they were down after the second set.
“The first thing that our coach said to us when we were down was, ‘Believe,’” Garrido said. “He said that after the third set, fourth and the fifth. We believed in each other, and we played as a team, and it paid off for us.”
The first set saw high drama at its conclusion. Both teams had opportunities to take Game 1. With the Sailors trailing 25-24, Newport Harbor benefitted from its home-court advantage, as Henry Wedbush’s set got caught in the beams above the court to prevent a clean attempt at an offensive strike.
Newport Harbor survived another set point when Will Campbell sent a cross-court swing wide from the right side, but Campbell had the last laugh when his serve found the floor for an ace that ended Game 1.
In another extended set in Game 2, Newport Harbor erased three consecutive set points, but the Cubs were able to finish yet again. Liam Watson and Wedbush performed a successful double block on Chalmers to give Loyola a two-set lead.
Campbell had 24 kills and three aces to lead the Cubs (22-6). Luke Turner added 20 kills and two blocks, and Wedbush distributed 53 assists to go with two aces and a block. Aidan Peters also had seven kills.
But it wasn’t enough to lead Loyola to its second SoCal Regional final in three years.
Newport Harbor is back in the final match, and this time it plans to win it.
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