CdM sweeps again

CORONA DEL MAR — For Coach Marissa Booker and her Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team, the backslide is both friend and foe.

First, there is the backslide play, a back set to a curling middle blocker who jumps off one leg and, against most teams, avoids the shell-shocked blockers who are locked up by the unconventional approach.

But there is another meaning, the one that coaches secretly fear — the lapse in attitude that can occur when focus loses a foothold against the grind of a long season.

The Sea Kings (29-3), seeded No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division I-A, appeared to be on the favorable side of both definitions Thursday, as they swept aside visiting Marlborough, 25-16, 25-16, 25-17, in a second-round playoff match.

CdM, in pursuit of its first section title since 2004, will face either El Dorado or Upland in the Division I-A quarterfinals on Saturday.

The Pacific Coast League champion Sea Kings received a match-high 15 kills from 6-foot-3 junior outside hitter Grace Kennedy and 33 assists from junior setter Kelsey Humphreys to dominate Marlborough (12-7), the second-place team from the Sunshine League.

CdM senior middle blocker Britton Taylor had eight kills, five of which came on the aforementioned backslide.

"That is definitely something our team runs very well," said Booker, in her first season at the helm after guiding the Vanguard University team the previous three seasons. "I like to push that play, because, as a player, it was my all-time favorite play. I like our setters to push our middles to do that, because it is something that a lot of [defenses] don't see."

While Booker was generally pleased with her team's performance, which created its 23rd victory by sweep this season and upped its set advantage to 81-10, she said there was some evidence of the negative backslide she is anxious to leave behind as the playoffs veer toward the quarterfinals.

"We had a lot of unforced errors,' said Booker, whose team missed 11 serves and had four hitting errors. "We need to focus on serving and passing. That's going to be our focus the next couple of days. If we are serving and passing, good things happen."

Hayley Hodson, a 6-2 freshman outside hitter, had seven kills, while senior middle blocker Chrissy Watson and sophomore outside hitter Jules Pouch had four kills apiece to help add to the Sea Kings' good things against the visitors from Los Angeles.

Taylor had one solo block and three block assists, while Hodson had two block assists and an ace. Humphreys chipped in two block assists and an ace and senior libero Mary McKennon was her usual dynamic presence in the back row.

McKennon said after two lopsided playoff wins, the competition will spike beginning Saturday.

"These first two [playoff matches] were slow and lackadaisical," McKennon said. "And we know we didn't play our best. But I think we're in really good position, because every practice, we have a goal in mind and that's the [section final]. Me being a senior, along with [Taylor, Watson and Nikki Borchard], we want it so bad. Every team I've been on the last three years has either lost in the semis or in the final. I think we want it really bad and every day we fight really hard for it.

"We know that on Saturday, we can't mess around, because the teams we are playing will be better and better."

Marlborough was less than an imposing foe.

The Mustangs trailed throughout the first game, but did manage several leads in Game 2, the last being at 11-9, prompting a CdM timeout.

Kennedy had back-to-back kills to pull the hosts even and a Marlborough lift violation put CdM on top, where it remained the rest of the evening.

"Each day, we're trying to really focus and maintain focus, but it's tough, because the season drags out," Booker said. "Every coach is in the same position now. But I think our players know the magnitude of where we're at right now and we have to be focused each and every match."

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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