CdM headed to final

CORONA DEL MAR — In the corner of the Corona del Mar High gym, three banners hang near each other. They are the latest championships the boys' volleyball team has won, dating back to last season.

The Sea Kings on Tuesday night moved a step closer to defending one of those titles.

They earned the right to go for back-to-back CIF Southern Section Division 2 crowns.

Second-seeded CdM swept West Ranch of Valencia, 25-12, 25-20, 25-18, in the semifinals at home.

No opponent has challenged CdM (25-6) in its three postseason matches. That will change come Saturday at Cypress College, the site of the section finale against top-seeded Oak Park (29-6).

Oak Park is the only Division 2 team to have beaten CdM this season. The Sea Kings' other five losses have come against Division 1 programs, Loyola, Esperanza, Santa Barbara and Newport Harbor, and Punahou, a state champion in Hawaii.

Loyola and Esperanza played separate semifinals matches on Tuesday, while Santa Barbara and Newport Harbor each made the playoffs in the toughest division.

The roles are reversed this time around for CdM in the section title match.

"I'd say the first time we were definitely the favorite," said CdM Coach Steve Conti, adding that Division 2 is deeper this season. "This year, knowing that we lost to them, probably a lot of people feel that we're the underdog since they already beat us. Sometimes that's the better position to be sitting in."

A lot has changed since Oak Park swept CdM in a best-of-three first-round playoff match at the Best of the West tournament in Poway.

The March 10 contest was the Sea Kings' fourth of the season. The setback back then was CdM's first of the season, and Conti said he has used a dozen different lineups since then.

The lineup Conti sent out against West Ranch (23-10), the second-place team out of the Foothill League, worked. The Sea Kings slowed down the hottest team in the postseason.

"They upset the No. 3 seed," Conti said.

West Ranch took down Laguna Beach, the team CdM played in last season's section title match.

Parker Brown and company prevented the Wildcats from knocking out the defending section champion. The senior outside hitter led CdM with 16 kills, seven service aces, six digs and two blocks. He hammered shots past 6-foot-9 and 6-8 players and he served so hard, a couple of balls went uncontested.

Thomas Hunter finished with six kills, and Remy Lamons had four kills and four block assists for CdM. Jack Reed and Kevin Gordinier each contributed five kills, while Joe Ctvrtlik dished out 34 assists.

Brown, who wears No. 1, is trying to guide the Sea Kings to a first, help CdM claim two straight section titles for the first time in the program's storied history.

Conti has led CdM to consecutive section title appearances before, 2005, '06 and '07, and five straight from 1997 to 2001, but Conti's teams won in '05 and '07, and in '98 and '00.

Last season, Conti won his fifth section title with the CdM boys, capping it off with a couple of historic championships, the CIF Southern California Regional Division II title and ESPN RISE national title. Those two banners are next to the section title one in the gym.

The Sea Kings are looking to add three more championship banners.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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