Morgan Boukather walked off the volleyball court with her Corona del Mar High teammates the same way she had the previous two years.
The season ended with another tough loss to Redlands East Valley. The past two times the Wildcats bounced the Sea Kings out of the CIF State Division II Regional playoffs.
It ended much earlier this time around for the Sea Kings, falling in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs. The prior two setbacks against the Wildcats, Boukather always had next year to get revenge.
The fifth straight postseason loss to the Wildcats stung Boukather the most. When she left the gym at Redlands East Valley last month after losing in four sets, Boukather knew next year did not exist.
Boukather's time was up at CdM.
"The bus ride home was not fun," said Boukather as it sunk in during the 64-mile trip that she will graduate from CdM without having beat Redlands East Valley in the playoffs.
The 6-foot-1 senior opposite left with her head up. Boukather gave the Sea Kings their best shot to win every time out. They won more often than they lost.
Boukather planned to get past the Wildcats and help CdM make a third straight section final appearance, a feat the program last achieved in the 1970s.
The Sea Kings were one match away from playing for the title again, much of it because of Boukather, the Daily Pilot's Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year.
Coach Darryl Gan would know how much Boukather, a two-time Dream Team pick, meant to the Sea Kings. He took over at CdM in 2008, Boukather's first season on varsity. He has seen how fast Boukather developed in three seasons and how much the Sea Kings benefitted from her presence.
Gan is going to miss Boukather, who is going to Stanford to play on the women's volleyball team.
"She stepped up and she knew she was going to have to lead the team this year," Gan said of Boukather, who lifted the Sea Kings to back-to-back 10-0 Pacific Coast League championship seasons.
"The one thing about Morgan is that she is one of the most humble girls I have ever coached. It didn't matter that she was already going to Stanford, because she always came with the same attitude. She wanted to work hard."
Nothing kept Boukather from putting in the necessary work to turn into the Pacific Coast League MVP and earn first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division I-A honors. Not even pneumonia got in her way.
Boukather, who produced a team-best 267 kills and finished with 90 digs and 51 service aces, said she came down with pneumonia toward the end of the regular season after ignoring a bad case of bronchitis. Every year during late October or early November, Boukather said she gets bronchitis.
The bronchitis turned into pneumonia at the beginning of November. The Sea Kings were days away from closing out the regular season against rival Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay.
"It didn't affect me that much," Boukather said. "I kept playing. I was fine."
Boukather did not look 100%, but she battled through.
When the Sea Kings in the opening set fell behind Newport Harbor, 18-12, Boukather fed off her adrenaline. She recorded four of her 11 kills during a 13-3 run that closed out the first set in favor of CdM.
The Sea Kings were on their way to not only beating the Sailors for the first time in six years, but also sweeping them.
"We really wanted to beat Harbor," said Boukather, adding that claiming the Back Bay rivalry match was one of the team's goals, along with winning a section title for the first time together after losing to Redlands East Valley in the championship in 2008 and '09.
"I'm going to miss everyone. We all had fun and we all loved each other."
Here are the rest of the players on this year's Dream Team.
The junior setter provided the Sailors with versatility, playing practically every position on the court. She did more than set the offense up for Newport Harbor after it lost standout middle blocker Alex Holbrook to a season-ending knee injury early in Sunset League play. Sary led the Sailors (22-13, 7-3 in league) with 774 assists and 120 blocks, and finished with 230 kills, 176 digs and eight service aces. Sary earned first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division I-AA and first-team All-Sunset League honors. Sary is a two-time Dream Team selection.
The senior outside hitter emerged as Newport Harbor's leader after it lost three standouts from its CIF State Division I championship team in 2009. The 6-foot Brown led the Sailors to a runner-up finish in the Sunset League and a No. 4 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs. Brown produced 18 kills and 10 digs in the Sailors' quarterfinal loss at Redondo Union. She recorded a team-best 378 kills to go with 142 digs and 42 blocks. Brown received first-team All-Sunset League laurels.
Corona del Mar
The senior middle blocker battled through knee pain for much of the season, but helped the Sea Kings to a fifth straight Pacific Coast League championship. The 6-foot-2 Ham was instrumental in the Sea Kings (24-8, 10-0 in league) reaching the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs and beating Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay for the first time in six years. The Auburn-bound Ham totaled 102 kills, 53 blocks and had a hitting percentage of .500. Ham received first-team All-Pacific Coast League laurels.
The junior middle blocker turned out to be Sage Hill's most dominant attacker and blocker. Kreitenberg almost led the young Lightning to their first Academy League championship since 2008. She averaged 3.4 kills and 1.2 blocks per set, both team bests at Sage Hill (12-12, 8-2 in league). Coach Dan Thomassen said the 6-foot-2 Kreitenberg reminds him of former Sage Hill standout Cat Dailey, who in 2005 led the Lightning to a CIF Southern Section Division IV-A title, the program's only section crown. Kreitenberg received second-team All-Academy League laurels.
Corona del Mar
The senior libero elevated her play for the Sea Kings in the big matches. Baker produced 25 digs in five-set thrillers against Laguna Beach and Cathedral Catholic of San Diego. She was one of 10 seniors lifting CdM to a second straight 10-0 Pacific Coast League championship season. The Sea Kings only dropped five sets in league play during the two-year stretch. Baker finished with 234 digs and 16 aces. Baker received first-team All-Pacific Coast League laurels.