One of the first things Beckman High girls' volleyball coach Darin McBain did in preparation for the season was take a look at the schedule.
And in particular, McBain looked for those three letters just about every coach in the Pacific Coast League needs to find – CdM.
Corona del Mar is the team to beat in league, as usual, and McBain wanted to highlight the dates his team will play them. And specifically, McBain was looking for the first of the two meetings – Oct. 10 in Beckman's home gym.
"We've challenged them in years past," said McBain, in his fifth season leading the program. " We always seem to give them a good match and we just fall a little bit short. They are the top of the league, they have been every year since I've been coaching.
"They always seem to be the one team we're looking up at and the one we're shooting for every season."
McBain, though, was forced to alter his focus. Injuries to Ella Roberts (bad back) and Nicole Luters (dislocated thumb), both starters, made McBain adjust.
"That first match against CdM, we really felt if we took care of that, then we'd set ourselves up pretty nicely for the rest of the season and CIF," he said. "But I've transitioned our focus into survival mode right now, to be honest, with these injuries. Who am I going to plug into these spots, who's going to give me everything they've got? Now, it's not, 'Hey let's focus on CdM in two weeks.' It's, 'we've got to focus on Monday and Wednesday next week.' We've got Woodbridge and Northwood and we've just got to survive however we can."
Fortunately for McBain, he has a back-up plan. In fact, Beckman has a deep and experienced team with 12 seniors.
Myranda Cunningham was a first-team all-PCL selection last season as a setter and is off to a good start to the season for Beckman, which began play this weekend ranked No. 9 in Orange County.
"This girl is super quick," McBain said of Cunningham. "She's getting better at making solid decisions and she digs a lot of balls. She's kind of an Energizer Bunny out there, just runs everything down. We're never really out of a point with her on the floor."
Offensively, Beckman is relying on Monica Rau.
"She was starting outside last year with Ella and this year she's become our No. 1 option," McBain said. "She had 13 kills [Thursday] night [against Irvine] and 18 in the match before. She's become that person we go to for the big points. She's really stepped up for us."
Tess Arthur is Beckman's libero and is a returning first-team all-PCL selection.
"Almost every single match that we finish, the opposing coach comes up and asks me about her because she's just everywhere on the floor," McBain said. "She'll end up with 25-30 digs pretty consistently."
McBain also has gotten a contribution from sophomore Kristi Wong.
"She's won the opposite position now that Nicole's hurt," McBain said. "She's very consistent, she's about 5-foot-9, 5-10, so she can block a few balls on the right side. That was something I wasn't sure how much I could use her this year, but she's been a real pleasant surprise."
Beckman opened PCL play last Thursday with a victory over Irvine in four games, improving to 10-8 overall, despite missing Roberts and Luters, as well as starting middle blocker Michaela Coats, who is out of town visiting her sister in college. Kelly Archer stepped in at middle blocker to fill in for Coats.
"It was a little bit of a struggle," McBain said. "We had a little bit of a momentum shift [after winning the first two games] and had to fight our way back out of it in the fourth game.
"But we're playing girls that don't normally play a lot and it's given them some opportunities to show me what they can do. There's going to be some things that come out of having these girls missing where I can see who can step in and play."
McBain said he hopes to have Roberts and Luters back on the floor by the end of October, just in time for the final PCL match of the year against CdM on Oct. 30. Until then, the Patriots will make due, and do what they do best.
"What we do better than I think most teams out there is play defense," said McBain, who played volleyball at Orange Coast College and Arizona State. "Anybody that watches us play is pretty amazed by how many balls we dig and how many points we continue just with effort.
"And that's pretty much what we rely on. It's pretty funny how we get into these long points with teams that eventually get frustrated with how many balls we're digging and eventually they'll make a hitting error, hit the ball out of bounds, or hit it into the net. We don't have a lot of offense; we're working on it, but it's not often we put the ball away with authority. We look to extend points, get two or three swings and eventually put the ball away or force a mistake from our opponent."
Regardless of how Beckman ultimately gets there, the league title still goes through CdM, an unavoidable reality for McBain and his girls.
"If we do get those two (Roberts and Luters) back, I like our chances to have a good shot at beating them in the last match of the [league] season," McBain said. "If all goes according to plan we'll have everybody back, hopefully, by that last CdM match and then CIF."