Boys' Volleyball: Sailors suffer rare loss to Laguna Beach

NEWPORT BEACH — At first glance, Steve Astor doesn't look like the Steve Astor from his first season as the Newport Harbor High boys' volleyball coach.

"That isn't the first time," Astor said he's gotten that response.

Astor said he has dropped about 100 pounds since last season. The facial hair is gone, too.

You have to do a double take to recognize the 28-year-old Astor.

Another thing you had to do a double take on was the Sailors' first result of the season. While the coach looked good, his team didn't on Friday at home against Laguna Beach.

The Breakers swept, 27-25, 26-24, 25-17, a rare result for them in a best-of-five match at Newport Harbor. The last time they beat the Sailors in three sets was 16 years ago, the same time they last defeated Newport Harbor in a best-of-five match.

Astor downplayed the result. He expected it.

"Just based on the bad practices we've had [on Monday and Tuesday]," Astor said. "We did a good job on Wednesday and Thursday of bouncing back [in practice]. But a lot of missed serves and things we did wrong [against Laguna Beach], that's a lack of focus in certain drills in practice. It's a direct correlation on that kind of stuff.

"I expect us to be strong in May. I don't care what our record is in March, until we get into [Sunset League play] of course. I don't care if we're 0-12. If we're getting better, that's what I care about."

The Sailors will have to improve in a hurry if they plan to win their next nonleague match. On Tuesday, they travel to face Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, the defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion.

Astor reminded his team if it doesn't correct its mistakes by then, the result would be the same as the one against Laguna Beach.

Against a random team, Astor said his Sailors most likely get through those first two close sets and prevail. Even though Newport Harbor had won its past 13 best-of-five matches against Laguna Beach, the Breakers showed they're tough.

They pushed the pace, serving right away and giving Newport Harbor little time to catch its breath. The strategy is one Laguna Beach Coach Scott Panaro said he learned from Newport Harbor's former coach, Dan Glenn.

Laguna Beach caught the Sailors off guard. The visitors seemed more in sync. They stopped Newport Harbor's biggest threats, 7-foot Kevin Rakestraw and Clay Carr, who only produced six kills each.

The Breakers having one match under their belts might have been the reason why they were so effective. The Sailors, ranked No. 10 in Division 1, were the Breakers' second Sunset League opponent in four days.

Laguna Beach, ranked No. 4 in Division 2, finished Edison in four sets, and on its first road match of the season, it expected a battle, not a sweep.

The battles came in the first and second sets. The Breakers (2-0) claimed them both by an average of two points and Weston Barnes helped. He collected kills late in both sets, finishing with 17. Each of the first two sets ended with a Newport Harbor return hitting the net. The third set ended in the same fashion.

When it was over, Panaro, in his second season in charge at Laguna Beach, asked the program's scorekeeper, Frank Aronoff, when was the last time Laguna Beach swept a best-of-five match at Newport Harbor. Aronoff first thought it might have been in the 1970s, when the Breakers won two of the section's first four titles, or during the Breakers' three-year section title run in the early 1980s.

Aronoff finally nailed down the year, 1997, a couple years before Panaro graduated high school.

And to think, Panaro thought the match against Newport Harbor was next week. Last weekend, Astor reminded him it was originally set for Friday.

Looking back, the Sailors could've used the extra days to prepare for the Breakers.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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