CdM gets its showdown

CORONA DEL MAR — The Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team has put itself in the best position it can to knock off Redlands East Valley.

Now, the Sea Kings just hope the fifth time is the charm.

Corona del Mar will face Redlands East Valley for the fifth time in the last three postseasons after sweeping off Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos, 25-11, 25-19, 25-23, in a CIF Southern Section Division I-A quarterfinal match Saturday night at CdM.

No. 2-seeded Redlands East Valley, which swept Murrieta Valley in another quarterfinal match, will play host to CdM in a semifinal match Tuesday. The Wildcats have defeated the No. 3-seeded Sea Kings in each of those previous four meetings. Led by University of Washington-commit Krista Vansant, Redlands East Valley beat CdM in the Division II-AA title match the last two years before knocking off the Sea Kings in the CIF State Division II regional final each year.

But CdM senior outside hitter Hailey Senske said she feels this year's Sea Kings team is peaking at just the right time.

"We beat [Redlands East Valley] last year in a tournament, but that was just two out of three," said Senske, who had nine kills against Los Osos. "I think the reason that we want to play them so badly is just because each time, I feel like we've kind of been shortchanged. We either haven't had an on night, or one person hasn't played well. We haven't ever clicked when we played them, and I feel like this the year where we're starting to click in the big [matches].

"We clicked against Harbor, when we beat them in Battle of the Bay. Everyone's just really excited to play [Redlands East Valley] because we have nothing to lose. We're not scared of them."

The Pacific Coast League champion Sea Kings (24-7) didn't appear to overlook Los Osos, the Baseline League champion. The Sea Kings came out red-hot in the first set.

Junior Mary McKennon (six kills, eight digs and three service aces) served six straight points as CdM jumped out to a 12-4 lead and cruised from there.

The next two sets were more difficult as Los Osos fed its senior captain Jasmine Eatmon, who had a match-high 15 kills. The Grizzlies took a 9-5 lead after Eatmon's ace, and CdM Coach Darryl Gan called timeout.

Soon, it was McKennon's turn to serve. This time she served five straight points — including two of her aces — and CdM was suddenly on top, 11-9.

"Mary's a great server and she's a competitor," Gan said. "She likes being in those situations … I thought we came out and were focused and were ready. We served real well, communicated real well. We executed what we wanted to execute, especially in Game 1 [but really] the whole entire match."

Senior Morgan Boukather, who had a team-high 14 kills, helped close out the match in the third set. The Sea Kings were down to Los Osos (28-5) as late as 20-19, but Boukather had four of her kills as CdM ended it on a 6-3 run.

Los Osos saved two match points, but Boukather's kill down the line ended it.

Junior Britton Taylor had six kills for Corona del Mar, and sophomore Kelsey Humphreys dished out 33 assists. Senior middle Claire Ham had four blocks.

Libero Katelyn Baker, who had a team-high 10 digs, said she felt like it was one of the Sea Kings' best matches of the season.

"We came out knowing this could be our last [match]," said Baker, one of 10 seniors on the team. "That got us really fired up."

Next up, Redlands East Valley and Vansant. Both of the CIF state playoffs losses were at Redlands East Valley as well, and Baker said the team's fans are "really insane."

"It's a definite home-court advantage," she said.

Gan knows his team will need to rise to the challenge.

"We have to go in there ready to compete," he said. "It's going to be a serving battle, it's going to be a passing battle. With me and my coaching staff, I think we're pretty well-coached with Steve [Conti] and Josh [Ko] and everyone else, and they're very well-coached. I think it's going to be a match of adjustments.

"We've been there before. We know who their go-to person is, and we're expecting her to get a ton of hits. Krista's a great player and I expect her to do really well. It'll be tough."

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