NEWPORT BEACH — In the sweat box that housed the annual boys' volleyball Battle of the Bay, it figured that one team's ability to turn down the heat proved to be a crucial element in the victory.
Corona del Mar High Coach Steve Conti instructed his players to shelve their jump serves in favor of float serves, in order to better locate after dropping the first game to host Newport Harbor. The resulting accuracy helped the Sea Kings rally for a 22-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-20 nonleague triumph to cap the regular season Friday.
"I started going to float serves and I think that was a big part of our success," said Conti, whose team improved to 22-6 by handling its crosstown rival for the third straight nonleague match. The CdM win avenged a Newport Harbor sweep in a best-of-three final at the Orange County Championships on March 19. "We have four or five guys who jump serve and we were serving out or hitting the ball right to the best passer in the whole gym [Sailors' senior libero Max Richley]. I thought [the float serves] gave us a better opportunity to control the ball and keep with our game plan by not serving the libero."
CdM senior outside hitter Parker Brown was one of the jump servers who changed to floaters. But he kept banging away at the net, recording a match-high 23 kills.
"Parker is a gamer," Conti said. "I thought he kind of played within himself. He is a guy who can go back and crack his jump serve. But I thought we were able to score some points and do some things off his float serve, too. Certainly, when we need a kill, we're going to be able to use him quite a bit during our [CIF Southern Section Division 2] playoff run."
Conti, however, also was quick to term the victory a team effort, while Newport Harbor Coach Steve Astor was effusive with praise for CdM.
"Talent-wise, I'm not sure there is a big difference," Astor said. "But [the Sea Kings] executed some of the simple plays better. [CdM senior setter] Joe Ctvrtlik was just outstanding in this match. He ran the offense so well for them and kept us on our toes. And, passing-wise, [junior] Erik Ctvrtlik had a much better match. The senior trio of Joe [Ctvrtlik], Jack [Reed, a middle blocker] and [Brown] played outstanding. As well as they played, we were still right there. We had our chances, but they just made a few more plays."
The 6-foot-5 Reed had 11 kills and was the match's most effective blocker with two solo blocks and two block assists. Conti said an adjustment to pair Reed against the Sailors' 6-11 junior middle, Kevin Rakestraw, was another move that paid dividends.
"I think [float serving] was a great call by [Conti]," said Astor, in his first season taking over for Dan Glenn. "I knew they were going to come in and make changes. And, as usual, [Conti] made outstanding changes. He definitely kept us more off the net in this match than they did in the first match. All credit goes to [Conti] on that."
Senior outside hitter Remy Lemons had seven kills and senior outside hitter Devin Gordinier added six for the winners, ranked second in CIF Division 2.
James Christian and Thomas Hunter also contributed for the visitors.
Rakestraw paced the Tars (21-9) with 14 kills. He also had an ace and a solo block.
Clay Carr, a 6-5 sophomore, had 13 kills and two block assists, while sophomore outside hitter Peirce Ward chipped in nine kills in an offense triggered by senior setter Connor Leggett.
Conti said the Sea Kings' ability to handle the supercharged atmosphere and an overflow crowd was crucial.
"This is not a very easy place to come in and play and we came in and fought really hard tonight," Conti said. "I'm very proud of our guys. There were some times when maybe we didn't play the cleanest volleyball; we'd have some stretches where we'd make two or three unforced errors. But I can't tell you how proud I am of the heart and fight [his players] put into this tonight."
Astor was also pleased by the environment in the gym.
"It's one of those matches that it's an honor to coach in," Astor said. Not only to be in a match like that, but to coach against a wonderful coach like Steve Conti. That guy doesn't do anything wrong, it seems, as a coach. And, he's a great person on top of it. You can't match this atmosphere. I told [the Sailors] they were lucky to play in a match like this."
Conti also stressed the special nature of the rivalry with his players.
"This match is something that seniors kind of remember," Conti said. "We had a team lunch today and that's what we talked about. We really tried to stress to the JV and frosh-soph, too what this whole thing was about. Sometimes, this is more of a crazy atmosphere than we get in a playoff match. I don't even play, but when I leave these matches every year, my shirt's wet [with sweat]."