CORONA DEL MAR — Early in the second set, Joe Ctvrtlik hustled toward the corner of the Corona del Mar High gym on Wednesday. Somehow, the setter managed to get to a ball and then strike it over the net to continue play.
It was a heck of a play, until one official called the play dead, a mistake on his part because it was never out of play. He copped to it a couple of minutes later, saying, "I've never seen a play like that before."
A couple of days ago, Coach Steve Conti said the same thing about his Sea Kings, regarding their effort. He didn't see his players going all out the last time they competed.
Their attitude changed at home in a nonleague match against Laguna Beach.
The Sea Kings came out fired up to face a rival school, never relenting in a 25-23, 25-16, 26-18 sweep. The Sea Kings bounced back from their loss to Back Bay rival Newport Harbor in the Orange County Championships Division 1 finale on Monday.
In a contest pitting the No. 2 and 3 ranked teams in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 poll, the higher ranked side won rather easily. Only the opening set was up for grabs.
Once Remy Lamons, a middle blocker and opposite, blasted a shot off a player to clinch the first set, the Sea Kings returned to form. They had lost their previous two sets, coming in a sweep by the Sailors in the best-of-three title match.
"We looked a little bit more like we did on Saturday [during the tournament], the way we were playing that got us in that championship match," Conti said. "The biggest thing that I just wanted to see was great effort. Matchups and strategy, without effort, it doesn't really matter."
What is important to Conti is getting a strong performance before CdM opens Pacific Coast League play at Beckman on Friday.
The Sea Kings (10-4) most likely won't face a challenge in league. The last time they didn't finish first in league was 10 years ago.
Winning league isn't an issue, repeating as the section champion might be for CdM.
The Sea Kings are talented, with seniors like outside hitter Parker Brown, who had 11 kills, two blocks and two digs against Laguna Beach (11-6), Ctvrtlik (25 assists), middle blocker Jack Reed and Lamons. But outside six players, Conti said nine are new to varsity.
Conti is hoping the unit gets as tight as last season's group. A trip to Hawaii next month might help CdM's cause.
The Sea Kings play Honolulu Punahou and Honolulu Hawaii Baptist Academy on April 6-7. The other California team invited to the Clash of the Titans tournament was Manhattan Beach Mira Costa.
"We were invited two years ago and it's a great opportunity," Conti said. "What I'm hoping is with the nine new guys on varsity this year, as much as they play, it will be a good bonding experience."