LOS ALAMITOS — Sunset League play resumed this week for the Newport Harbor High boys' volleyball team.
Coach Steve Astor said his Sailors, who didn't play last week, haven't kicked one bad habit — starting slow.
They came out sluggish at Los Alamitos on Wednesday, but for the second straight night the Sailors finished strong. Newport Harbor swept the Griffins, 25-16, 25-12, 25-18, and improved to 5-1 in league play.
"I wasn't happy with how we started the match," Astor said. "We've lost a lot of first [sets] this year. That's a mental thing. I didn't like our mental approach before the match. We weren't together. We weren't a team before the match started, so it showed when the match started."
The Sailors still managed to sweep their second league opponent in as many days. They are trying to stay within striking distance of first-place Huntington Beach. Their lone league setback came against the defending league champion Oilers, who are undefeated.
The two programs meet at Newport Harbor on April 23. Until then, the Sailors have their spring break, which begins next week.
They won't have much of a break. The Sailors have a league match at Fountain Valley on April 18, and the next day, they travel to the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions.
"It's kind of a trap match," Astor said of the contest against the Barons before the two-day tournament. "We got to beat Fountain Valley first to give us a chance to, you know, at least split the league title [with Huntington Beach], if we can beat Huntington, which I know we can. Last year the second time against Huntington, we played better against [the Oilers and we lost in five sets]."
The Sailors (14-5 overall), ranked No. 10 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll, haven't gone the distance in league since the opening week, when they beat Edison twice.
Each of the Sailors' past four league matches have ended in three sets, a win against Fountain Valley, a loss to Huntington Beach, and wins against Marina and Los Alamitos. Newport Harbor has beaten up on the worst teams in league.
Los Alamitos is by far the weakest. The Griffins remained winless in league and they never threatened the Sailors, who had too much size and talent for the hosts to overcome.
Kevin Rakestraw, a 7-foot senior bound for Stanford, led the Sailors with 14 kills and outside hitter Peirce Ward added 11 kills. Setter Steven Duhoux collected 28 assists and three blocks.
"They lost a lot of seniors," Astor said of the Griffins, who have only claimed two sets in five league contests. "They were really tough last year. Except for the setter, they were all seniors [last year]. That's hard. You can tell they're young. No. 10 [Aaron Fukumura] is a good young player. They'll be back in a year or two."
Astor will see Los Alamitos again on April 30, when the Sailors close out league play at home.
They have finally faced every team in league. The Sailors should get past Fountain Valley, Marina and Los Alamitos in the second go around. The uphill battle will be against Huntington Beach, ranked No. 5.
Astor said the team is using the next league match and the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions to get better in time for the showdown against the Oilers.
"We'd like to go as far as we can in the tournament, but we're trying to do the right thing on the court," Astor said. "[The tournament is] a good test for us because we always play good teams up there.
"If we [start slow in Santa Barbara], we'll be in the loser's bracket. We kind of did that in the OC Championships [tournament]. Hopefully we learned our lesson."