Corona del Mar stopped in semifinals

Daily Pilot

CORONA DEL MAR — Starting near the school entrance, a raucous Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball team sprinted toward its home gym.

The Sea Kings shouted as they zoomed past fans. A family from Loyola of Los Angeles tried to make out what the Sea Kings yelled before getting in line.

The Sea Kings wound up waking up the Cubs inside. They paid for it Tuesday night in front of a packed crowd.

Third-seeded Loyola swept the second-seeded Sea Kings, 25-20, 26-24, 25-16, in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. The Cubs earned the shot to defend their title.

For the second time in four days, Loyola (25-3) traveled to the Back Bay and prevailed. The latest trip was easier than the five-game quarterfinal win at Newport Harbor.

The Sea Kings (23-9) appeared to have the upper hand playing at home. They beat Loyola last month in four games on the same court.

CdM has had the luxury of remaining at home during three of its playoff matches, only having to travel once to Huntington Beach to face Edison.

The Sea Kings are staying put again. Their postseason run is over, though.

Coach Steve Conti isn't used to losing in the semifinals. In his previous eight appearances in this round, Conti led CdM to the championship match each time.

Conti's ninth semifinal appearance in 15 seasons ended in 1 hour and 17 minutes.

"I talked about what this game was going to come down to, serving, passing and defense," Conti said. "I think [Loyola] beat us in most of those categories."

The Cubs, ranked fifth in the nation by ESPN RISE, got their payback.

The No. 11-ranked Sea Kings saw a completely different Loyola team from the one losing at CdM on April 24. The Cubs took the first game again, but this time they finished off CdM.

The opening game featured 10 ties. The second game half that amount.

Game 3 was only even at zeroes.

As usual, Stanford-bound outside hitter Steven Irvin led Loyola with 16 kills. The middle of the Cubs' defense, featuring Robert Feathers and Ryan Zoppi, made things difficult for the Sea Kings' attack.

That wasn't the case in the last meeting.

"Our middles were nonexistent and our passing was nonexistent," Loyola Coach Michael Boehle said.

Those two aspects on the court for Loyola dramatically improved.

Setters Michael Mullahey and Kurtis Mirick, who missed the previous CdM match with an ankle injury, distributed the ball well to Irvin, Vaun Lennon (11 kills) and Feathers (eight kills).

The 6-foot-8 Feathers also recorded five blocks and the 6-3 Zoppi redirected shots, giving Boehle an opportunity to win his fifth section crown in eight years.

The Cubs play top-seeded Manhattan Beach Mira Costa (33-1) in the final Saturday at Cypress College.

Outside hitter Weston Nielsen tried to get the Sea Kings to the Division I title match for the first time since 2000. Nielsen started strong in Game 1, recording half of the team's points as CdM led, 8-7.

Feathers and Zoppi stood in the way.

Nielsen didn't record another kill until he cut the deficit to 13-9 in Game 2. This was the point in the game the UC Santa Barbara-bound senior turned it up a notch.

The Sea Kings went on a 6-0 run to take a 14-13 advantage, their first lead in Game 2. Each time Loyola went ahead, CdM responded, with Evan Dean getting a kill or Joey Booth and Spencer Haly turning away one of Irvin's shots.

Nielsen pounded two of his team-high 12 kills down the stretch, tying the second game twice. He gave the Sea Kings a 24-23 lead with a service ace.

With game point, the Sea Kings failed to close it out. Loyola scored the next two points and found itself one step closer to winning its 11th section crown in school history.

"It sure would've been nice to get that second game and maybe get a little momentum back our way," Conti said. "Even though we came back in that second game, I don't know if we ever really had the momentum. We kind of played from behind most of the time.

"We made enough plays to get ourselves back in the game. We couldn't make enough plays to win that game."

CIF Playoffs Loyola…3 CdM…0

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