LAGUNA BEACH — If Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball coach Marissa Booker needed any reminder of her team's character, she needn't look anywhere but the second set of Tuesday's CIF Southern Section Division I-A semifinal match against rival Laguna Beach.
"To come back like that, in that second set, really showed me the heart of this team," said the first-year coach whose squad rallied to win Game 2 and used it as a springboard to an eventual, 25-20, 25-23, 17-25, 25-16 road victory that sends the second-seeded Sea Kings on to Saturday's divisional championship game.
Corona del Mar, which improved to 31-3, will face either defending champion and No. 1-seed Marymount, or Vista Murrieta, on Friday or Saturday at Cypress College.
"Our team did an amazing job," Booker continued. "We focused in front of a big crowd tonight, and that [big crowd] is something we really haven't had. We talked about doing that in practice and I thought the girls did a great job in front of this crowd. The girls really came out to play tonight. It's a great win."
Pacific Coast League champion Corona del Mar took control of the match by coming up with a big-time rally in the second game before a full house at Laguna Beach's Dugger Gymnasium. The Breakers, the division's No. 3-seed, bolted to a 10-1 lead and were seemingly on their way toward evening up the match. The Sea Kings slowly fought back into the game and pulled to within 19-18 on a huge kill by senior middle blocker Britton Taylor. They tied the score at 19-19 on a misplayed ball by the Breakers and the teams were tied three more times, the last at 22-22, before junior outside hitter Grace Kennedy sent a shot off Laguna junior middle blocker Julia Goggin to give the Sea Kings the lead for good.
They took the set on a kill by freshman outside hitter Hayley Hodson.
"We have a tendency to get off to slow starts, which has been an issue for us in games, but once we get into a flow, we are unstoppable," senior libero Mary McKennon said. "Our team rally pulled together and played so great to pull out that second game. That was unbelievable."
Corona del Mar had strung together a seven-point run in the first game to wipe out 7-6 deficit en route to a 25-20 victory. The Sea Kings never trailed by less than three points after taking a 13-8 lead and led by as many as six points (23-17).
The Sea Kings grabbed a 7-3 lead in the third game on a kill by senior middle blocker Chrissy Watson but Laguna scored four straight points to take the lead. The Breakers went in front, 8-7, when senior outside hitter Marina Paul's shot went off Hodson. The teams were tied at 10-10 after Goggin served long for Laguna but the Breakers took the lead for keeps on a kill by freshman outside hitter Alyse Wallace-Ford.
Another kill by Wallace-Ford, who had a match-high 31 kills, put the Breakers on top, 20-13. They secured a 25-17 victory when USC-bound setter Allison Palmer dropped a soft tap for game-point.
The teams also were tied at 10-10 in the fourth game before the Sea Kings rode a right-side shot and two kills from Taylor, to a 15-12 advantage. The Breakers served twice into the net to allow the Sea Kings to maintain three-point leads at 16-13 and 17-14, and a kill by Watson brought the lead to 19-15 and forced Laguna to call timeout.
"We had such balance out there tonight," Booker said. "It's just not one player on this team. This isn't a one-man show. This group knows how to play together and stick together, no matter what. We had key plays come from several girls tonight."
Taylor picked up two more points and a rocket shot by Hodson that ricocheted off the Breakers' Rachele Killian, put the Sea Kings at match-point. They capped a 3-1 victory on a drop shot by Kennedy.
It was time to celebrate, and think about Saturday's championship final.
"This is just exhilarating," said McKennon who will play in the third Southern Section title match of her CdM career. The Sea Kings played in the 2008 and 2009 title games.
"We've worked so hard all year with the [CIF] finals in mind," she said. "It was so hard to lose in the semifinals last year and for our seniors, we did not want the season to end without getting to the finals again.
"This is just amazing. We don't care who we play. We're just thrilled to be going back. We'll be ready."
Taylor had 21 kills, Kennedy 19 kills and Hodson 12 as the Sea Kings, who were in the semifinal round for the fourth consecutive year, put Booker in her first CIF final.
"It's really exciting," Booker said. "The final is the last step and I've told the girls to enjoy each step in the process. They have, and I'm just really proud of them."
Corona del Mar and Marymount faced each other earlier in the year with Marymount taking a four-set victory from the Sea Kings at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions.