NEWPORT BEACH — In his 26 years at Newport Harbor High, Coach Dan Glenn called this girls' volleyball season an up-and-down one.
A standout starter quit for the first time under Glenn's watch.
Key players dealt with knee and shoulder injuries.
The Sailors finished third in the Sunset League for the first time under Glenn.
Newport Harbor has moved past all of the setbacks. The Sailors are now in position to win their eighth CIF Southern Section title with Glenn at the helm.
Who could have imagined? Glenn and his resilient Sailors did.
The host Sailors defeated Mater Dei, 25-22, 18-25, 25-16, 25-23, in the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs on Tuesday night. The gym was packed, fans stood, students from each side chanted throughout.
At the end, the Sailors' faithful rushed the court after Newport Harbor sealed the deal on Kasey Thompson's kill. Thompson and another starter, Cinnamon Sary, have experienced this before, a trip to the section finals.
A reporter asked Glenn when the previous trip was.
"Two years ago against some team I can't remember who we played," Glenn sarcastically said.
Newport Harbor's opponent in the section finale will be the same one as last time, rival Los Alamitos.
The Sailors beat the Griffins back then. They didn't have much luck in the two Sunset League matches against Los Alamitos this season.
Newport Harbor (25-8) gets a shot at revenge against Los Alamitos (34-3), which shared the league title with Edison. The team that upset top-seeded Edison in the quarterfinals was Mater Dei (26-9).
Glenn said the Monarchs were playing the best volleyball of any team in the postseason.
Sary and Thompson helped Newport Harbor get past Mater Dei and set up the rematch with second-seeded Los Alamitos. Sary led the team with 22 kills and had six digs, while Thompson contributed a half dozen kills and five blocks.
The USC-bound Sary started strong, recording eight kills in the opening set. Winning the first set gave Newport Harbor confidence.
Playing at home for the third straight match in the playoffs helped as well.
"That's a huge, huge advantage, especially in this gym versus Mater Dei," Glenn said.
Newport Harbor will hit the road for the section finale at Cypress College on Saturday. Glenn is more than OK with that.
"You know what?" Glenn said. "We're not playing at Los Al."
The last time Newport Harbor traveled to Los Alamitos was last month and the Sailors suffered their first sweep since rejoining the Sunset League five years ago.
The Griffins have swept every opponent in the playoffs. It won't be as easy for them against Newport Harbor, which has progressively improved every time out.
The Sailors have other weapons beside Sary, an outside hitter. There is Carolyn Bockrath in the middle with Claire Castillo and Allison Schelin.
Castillo and Schelin have battled through knee and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Torey Thompson feeds all of Newport Harbor's weapons. The junior setter finished with 38 assists, seven digs and three kills against Mater Dei.
Bockrath produced nine kills and three blocks and Castillo had six kills and four blocks.
Defensively, there's Tatum Norton for Newport Harbor. The senior dug out some major shots from Mater Dei's top hitters and finished with nine digs.
Maddie Frome led the Monarchs with 20 kills, but the Sailors' defense held the rest of the hitters, Frankie Shebby, Ashley Cox and Annie Flynn, in single-digit kills.
"We knew if we could just keep it close [with] our serving and our defense, we'd have a great shot," said Glenn, whose hoping those facets work for the Sailors against the Griffins.
"We played them and we know what they do. We're going to go in there and worry about Newport Harbor."