Sea Kings run Newport

NEWPORT BEACH — Nobody needs extra motivation before the Battle of the Bay girls' volleyball match.

But when Newport Harbor High ran onto its home court Saturday night in blue T-shirts that said "We run this town" in white letters, rival Corona del Mar definitely noticed.

"We don't look at their shirts like, 'Oh, they think they're going to beat us,'" CdM senior libero Mary McKennon said. "We look at their shirts like they want to fight us. It's going to be a big battle no matter what … [but] it definitely fired us up."

Jay-Z's accompanying hip-hop song played in the background as the teams warmed up. During the hook of the song, Rihanna asks, "Who's gonna run this town tonight?"

It wasn't the Sailors.

Corona del Mar rallied to win the rivalry match for the second straight year, 25-27, 25-22, 25-20, 25-19, in front of a packed house.

"Everyone did great," senior middle blocker Britton Taylor said after the Sea Kings used a balanced effort to beat their rivals, starting a streak of their own after winning the Battle of the Bay last year for the first time since 2004.

Freshman outside hitter Hayley Hodson had a match-high 15 kills for Corona del Mar (4-0), and junior outside Grace Kennedy pounded down 13 of her own. Senior middle blocker Chrissy Watson also had a stellar match with eight kills and five blocks.

It was the second straight significant victory for the Sea Kings, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division I-A coaches' poll. CdM had beaten divisional foe Laguna Beach, No. 3 in I-A, in four sets on Thursday.

First-year CdM Coach Marissa Booker played under Coach Dan Glenn at Newport Harbor before graduating in 1999. She found time right before the match to come over and give quick hugs to Glenn and assistant Taylor Govaars, but said she wasn't caught up in the hype.

"This is just a match that's a part of the process," Booker said. "Every part of the process I want them coming out and playing hard, so that's what we did … You know, we treated this just like every other [match]. That's a mentality we went in with. We've been setting goals for ourselves, and obviously this is one of our important goals, to come out strong and prepared in this [match]. We did and we battled through some errors, which was really crucial for us."

One error in Glenn's mind was his team wearing those shirts to begin with.

"I wasn't real happy with that," Glenn said. "I knew nothing about those shirts. That one's on my seniors. I was a little embarrassed by it, if you want to know the truth, since they beat us last year."

Newport Harbor (3-1), ranked No. 5 in Division I-AA, did grab the back-and-forth opening set on senior Claire Castillo's kill off the block. But CdM pulled away late in the second set, as McKennon's ace gave the Sea Kings their first set point at 24-22 and they converted it.

Serving was a theme for the Sea Kings, who had 11 aces compared to just two for Newport Harbor.

Junior setter Kelsey Humphreys (four), McKennon and senior setter Nikki Borchard (two each) led the way in the category.

"That's how they beat Mater Dei," Glenn said. "They served Mater Dei off the court. They serve tough. But I'm not going to say it was all their serving. We didn't pass like we need to pass to beat a team like that.

"They did a good job. They beat us in every phase of the game. Execution, they won the long rallies, coaching – all of the fundamentals. They deserved to win tonight."

Kennedy came alive in the third set. She pounded down four of her kills in a 6-2 run, helping the Sea Kings build a 13-8 lead they wouldn't relinquish. CdM also stormed out to a 9-1 lead in the fourth set on yet another ace, this one from Kennedy.

The Sailors rallied, including one point where Booker was adamant that her player's hit out of bounds was tipped. It wasn't called, but Newport Harbor would not get closer than four points.

A Newport Harbor hit into the net gave CdM its first match point at 24-19, and the Sea Kings converted their second one when a Sailors serve went into the net.

"One of the things we talk about before practice all the time is just our mental toughness," Booker said. "We're not just physically getting ready for practice but we're mentally getting ready for practice. That's a huge reason why. Things aren't always going to go your way, and you need to be ready mentally to handle it."

Seniors Alex Holbrook and Cinnamon Sary had 12 and 10 kills, respectively, to lead Newport Harbor.

Fellow senior Kasey Thompson added nine kills and, with Sary in a more hitting-minded role than earlier in the week, junior Torey Thompson dished out 31 assists.

In the end, it wasn't enough to stop the Sea Kings from running the town Saturday night.

"The first [set] I think both teams were a little bit nervous," McKennon said. "We've never had this big of a crowd heckling us, but I think we played through it. We were able to come back not even thinking about the first [set]. We just moved on from it. And I think we played really well as a team. I'm just so proud of everyone on the team."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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