ALISO VIEJO — The Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball team was the odds-on favorite to advance in Saturday night's CIF Southern Section Division II quarterfinal match.
Establishing an odds-on favorite to lead the team in kills would be a bit more problematic for the Sea Kings and their fans.
Junior outside hitter Parker Brown did the honors in this one, pounding down 12 of them as CdM eased to a 25-14, 25-16, 25-15 victory at Aliso Niguel.
Top-seeded Corona del Mar will play host to Trabuco Hills in a semifinal match at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Trabuco Hills won at No. 4-seeded Oak Park in five sets, in another quarterfinal match Saturday night.
Who knows who will step up for CdM in the semifinals.
"We're still working on writing our final chapter right now, but what makes this team special is the balance that we have," CdM Coach Steve Conti said. "On Thursday, Brennan Anderson led us in kills. Tonight, it's Parker Brown, with Jack [Reed] and Spencer [Haly] right behind him. We've got guys who can put the ball away. Even the guy who put the last ball away at the end of the match, Patrick Pearson, is a really good outside. He'd be playing a lot for a lot of other teams. We're just fortunate to have some depth, and that's one of the reasons why I think we've had a good year. Practice is pretty competitive, too."
The Sea Kings (27-4) were business-like Saturday as they march on in pursuit of their first CIF title since 2007. They won their eighth straight match, getting past the Wolverines (18-8) in just more than an hour.
Conti liked to see his middle blockers get involved, helped by the passing of Anderson. Haly had nine kills and five blocks, while Reed had nine kills and two blocks.
Opposite Evan Dean had six kills, coming from the passes of Nick Curci (20 assists and four digs) and Joe Ctvrtlik (15 assists and five digs). The Sea Kings took the Aliso Niguel crowd, featuring about 75 spirited high school students, out of the match. The Wolverines, who had advanced past the CIF first round for the first time in program history, never really got into a rhythm or went on any prolonged runs.
"The last three or so weeks we kind of caught fire," said Aliso Niguel Coach Dan Bornfeld, whose team tied for second in the Sea View League but handed champion Trabuco Hills its only league loss. "It was all predicated on our defense, and we struggled defensively tonight. [The Sea Kings] made us struggle, because they're so diverse offensively."
Corona del Mar was never seriously threatened in the first set, and used a 10-3 run in the second to open up a 17-10 advantage. The run featured a pair of service aces from Anderson, who had a team-high three.
The start was key in set three as well. This time, it was a 9-2 run capped by a kill from Dean, giving the visitors a 15-7 edge.
"I was really proud of the way that we stepped up to the occasion," Conti said. "This is what any coach would want to see from a team that has high expectations, and wants to make a run in the CIF playoffs. I don't think the scores are indicative of how good that team really is. I think we just played really good volleyball. We're starting to come around, really, at the right time."
The Aliso Niguel fans tried to hang in there, taunting CdM senior Keegan Jakosky out of the final timeout late in the third set. Jakosky responded with back-to-back aces, giving CdM a 22-11 lead they weren't about to relinquish.
"Their serving took us out of our offensive rhythm," said Bornfeld, who had senior middle blocker Greg Williams and senior outside hitter Steven Wright (four kills each) lead his team. "We played on Thursday against San Luis Obispo at home, and [the crowd] was almost a seventh man almost. [But[ they quickly jump out to a five, six, seven-point lead, and our crowd kind of goes flat."
Anderson had four kills and Remy Lamons three for CdM, which also got the aforementioned match-ending kill from the senior Pearson.
"It's really nice playing on a team like that," said the Stanford-bound Haly. "If anybody has an off-night, any one of our six hitters will be able to step up and have a big night for us. Everybody can handle the responsibility of being the go-to guy, but you don't have to be the go-to guy every night."
Corona del Mar is in the CIF semifinals for the seventh time in eight years. Now comes the stumbling block in recent years, making it to the finals. Last year the Sea Kings lost in a Division I semifinal against Loyola, also in their own gym.
"My freshman year we lost in the semifinals, and last year we lost in the semifinals," Haly said. "We'd rather not lose again in the semis. We're really going to try to get a big crowd out there and do whatever we can to move on."