Exactly a week ago, Coach Steve Conti knew the Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball team earned two more guaranteed matches.
One was in the CIF Southern Section Division II title match and the other in the opening round of the CIF Southern California Regional Division II playoffs.
The second match caused Conti to worry. He did not want his Sea Kings to take Saturday's section final against defending champion Laguna Beach lightly.
"They knew we had an opportunity to maybe compete against Mater Dei and Santa Margarita [in the regional playoffs]," Conti said of his players, who had already swept Laguna Beach twice in the regular season. "All of those things, in my mind, could've been a distraction … to maybe look past somebody else, especially when some people think you're the favorite."
The top-seeded Sea Kings took care of business before they began a new postseason format.
Corona del Mar lost the first set to the second-seeded Breakers, but the Sea Kings came back and closed it out, 23-25, 25-15, 25-14, 25-16, at Cypress College. A couple of days after celebrating Conti's fifth boys' section title, CdM can now focus on the regional playoffs.
The Sea Kings (29-4) earned the No. 2 seed in the regional playoffs and on Tuesday they play host to Westview of San Diego at 7 p.m. Westview (33-4) is coming off an upset of powerhouse La Costa Canyon, 25-17, 21-25, 27-25, 15-25, 15-13, in the CIF San Diego Section Division II title match.
The Sea Kings and Wolverines have not faced each other this season, but they have two common opponents: Beckman and Torrey Pines.
Corona del Mar beat the Patriots twice, helping it go perfect during its Pacific Coast League title run. The Sea Kings swept Torrey Pines in a best-of-three match in the season opener at the Best of the West tournament in Poway.
Westview lost to Beckman at the Beach Cities Invitational down south, but defeated Torrey Pines twice in Palomar League play.
The Sea Kings are the favorites to get past Westview and reach the regional semifinals. If CdM moves on, it might get a rematch against Santa Margarita, a team that handed the Sea Kings one of their four losses during the regular season.
Santa Margarita plays at Jordan of Los Angeles in the opening round Tuesday. The Eagles are looking to get back on the winning side after they lost a heartbreaker to Mater Dei, 25-22, 18-25, 25-17, 20-25, 16-18, in the CIF Southern Section Division I final on Saturday.
That match was right after CdM prevailed against Laguna Beach at Cypress College. The Sea Kings were not about to stick around to watch Santa Margarita and Mater Dei play and it is understandable why.
"Right now, we just want to kind of let this soak in and kind of enjoy this," Conti said after CdM won its seventh section crown, only Loyola of Los Angeles has claimed more section titles (11).
Conti said winning the section championship was the Sea Kings' ultimate goal. The next one is making a run at a regional title.
The turnaround is quick for the Sea Kings. They return to the court three days after finishing on top. The question now is whether they are motivated to keep competing at a high level.
Spencer Haly answered that right after he produced his best match of the season. Haly, who finished with a career-high 20 kills on 27 attempts, with only one error in the section final, believes CdM is a legit contender in the regional playoffs.
"I feel we have the talent to beat just about anybody," said Haly, a 6-foot-6 middle blocker bound for Stanford.
The Sea Kings are stacked, with junior outside hitter Parker Brown, senior opposite Evan Dean, senior outside hitter Brennan Anderson, and junior middle blocker Jack Reed. Two players set the attack up, senior Nick Curci and junior Joe Ctvrtlik.
Curci has played in a regional before, in boys' soccer in 2010, when CdM won the CIF Southern California Regional Division II title. That same year, the Sea Kings won the CIF Southern Section Division IV section title, the program's first section crown.
Curci and his teammates will first have to get through Westview, then most likely Santa Margarita (32-4) in the next round, and most likely top-seeded Mater Dei (28-3) in the final to bring home CdM's first boys' volleyball regional title.
"It's kind of nice that we have a chance to play in this tournament," Conti said after his team was unable to compete against the likes of Mater and Santa Margarita in the section playoffs because CdM moved back down to Division II due to its league not performing well enough in Division I the previous two seasons.
"I think the Division II bracket for regionals … is going to be the most competitive division."