COSTA MESA — Ricardo doMonte is the new boys' volleyball coach at Costa Mesa High. The person who referred him to the job is his friend Paul Muñoz, the coach at the rival school, Estancia.
Muñoz might be regretting his decision after Thursday.
The new man in charge of the Mustangs led them to their first win of the season, a 31-33, 25-22, 25-12, 25-15 result coming in an Orange Coast League opener at Estancia.
Through eight matches, the Eagles are winless. It took the Mustangs seven matches to end their losing skid.
They almost lost their coach in the process.
A couple of times the referees made tough calls, doMonte stood up and argued. The Brazilian knows the sport well, having coached it for 32 years on the professional, collegiate, high school and youth levels.
His barking earned him a yellow card. Late in the second set, his top player, Noah JeyaRajah, got his coach to do what the referees couldn't.
"Chill," JeyaRajah told doMonte because he didn't want his coach thrown out. "We're going to win this game."
The coach sat back down. JeyaRajah delivered on his words in the first meeting between the two schools in the Battle for the Bell.
The senior outside hitter came on strong, allowing Costa Mesa to win three straight sets after losing the opening one.
JeyaRajah finished with a match-high 27 kills, the same amount he said he had the last time the Mustangs defeated Estancia last year.
They were extra motivated this time after dropping the first set. Their coach told them to look at the Eagles before the teams switched sides.
"They're celebrating like they won the match," doMonte said to his players, who knew the first set could've gone either way.
Sixteen times the score was even in the first set. It seemed like the set would never end.
The Mustangs had set point after one of JeyaRajah's three service aces, but Joey Mittner tied it at 25-25 with a kill.
Of all players, Mittner, a setter, tallied six kills and almost led Estancia in that category for the entire match. He helped the Eagles clinch the first set, dishing out a couple of his 36 assists to Jacob Sperling and Josh Lopez, whose kill won it at 33-31.
The setback was tough for Costa Mesa, but JeyaRajah said he felt confident that his team would bounce back.
"We knew that we should've won that [set]," he said of the first. "We knew that we should've won the next three [sets]."
And the Mustangs did just that. The offense features two setters, Coby Pham and Andrew Wright.
They both did the right thing and found JeyaRajah.
No. 7 attacked from everywhere and seemed unstoppable. He hammered shots from the left, the right, the back, and he even dropped in a couple of kills with his left hand.
The production isn't a season high for JeyaRajah, 32 kills is, but that total came in a loss. The Mustangs needed JeyaRajah because they showed up with only eight players.
"We were just saving it until league started," JeyaRajah joked of the team winning its first match. "We've just been improving every game, so it's nice to finally come out once league started and show that we can win."
Muñoz came away impressed with JeyaRajah. He's the type of hitter, Muñoz said, his team is lacking.
The team uses its middle blockers, Sperling and Edwin Madera, who led the Eagles with seven kills apiece, a lot.
"The door is open," Muñoz said of finding an outside hitter. "Who wants to do it?"
Muñoz sees that JeyaRajah is doing it for doMonte, who coaches with Muñoz with his volleyball club, the Ohana Athletic Club.
During the high school season, the two coaches are now rivals. Muñoz even gave doMonte a hard time during the fourth set when doMonte asked one of the referees a question.
Muñoz shouted: "He can't stand up!"
"I want to see him get a red card. He got a yellow, you know?" Muñoz said with a smile. "When he started standing up [again], I started saying something. I'm that friend."