HUNTINGTON BEACH — With a handful of matches going the distance, this weekend resembled a roller coaster ride for the Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team.
The ride still was a long one, as the Sea Kings won their first four matches and advanced to the Division 1 championship quarterfinals at the Dave Mohs Memorial Tournament. It took the top-ranked team in the state to end it.
Los Alamitos rallied to top CdM, 20-25, 25-10, 15-7, in a quarterfinal match Saturday at Edison High. Sage Hill lost a round earlier, in the first championship bracket match, as Huntington Beach rallied for a 14-25, 26-24, 15-10 victory over the Lightning.
CdM Coach Steve Astor watched his team go the distance in the best-of-three format in four of its five matches, including all three pool-play wins. The Sea Kings defeated Chaparral, 25-14, 23-25, 15-9, in their final pool-play match earlier Saturday. They then topped Long Beach Poly, 25-16, 25-11, in their first championship bracket match.
"We got our money's worth," Astor said. "It's early in the season, and we're a younger team. Certainly that's not an excuse by any means, but we're learning how to play at this level, some of our players. We're up and down at times. We're definitely more up than we are down.
"Every chance we get to play to 15 is great experience for us, because that's the fifth game. In the playoffs, you've got to win matches in five at some point. So the fact that we've already got a ton of games to 15 under our belt is going to be huge for us, come November. I'm definitely not mad about that; it's actually a good thing in terms of experience."
CdM (5-2), ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1-A and No. 11 in the state by CalHiSports, did fall into an early hole against Los Al in the first set. The Griffins took an 8-3 lead, forcing Astor to burn his first timeout. But CdM rallied, taking its first lead at 13-12 on a block by Samantha Jones.
A kill by Jules Pouch gave the Sea Kings their first set point, which they converted on an ace by Hannah Bagdasar.
Astor highlighted the play of Pouch, who had six kills against Los Al and a team-high nine against Poly. She played outside hitter instead of her normal opposite in the tournament, as Astor said junior outside hitter Katie Craig suffered a concussion in Wednesday's match against Mater Dei.
"She hit an extremely high percentage all day," Astor said of Pouch, CdM's only senior starter. "Her and Hayley [Hodson] have been really strong leaders for our young team."
Hodson, playing against her T-Street club teammate Crissy Jones, led CdM with seven kills against Los Al (10-1). But the Griffins pulled out to an 11-1 lead in the second set and won it going away.
In the third set, they used impressive defense on one point, which was finished off with a Annie Hale kill for a 7-5 Los Al lead. The Griffins then won the next seven points to set up a match point.
But Astor took the tournament overall as a positive for the Sea Kings.
"I honestly could care less about our place finish in this tournament," he said. "I just wanted to see that we were getting better and trying to do the right things, and that's 100% what happened this weekend. We're getting better with every match, and how well we played at times against Los Al is a good sign … We want to peak in November."
Paige Migliori and Jessie Harris had 13 and 11 assists, respectively, for CdM against Poly. Migliori had 14 assists in the final pool-play match against Chaparral, and Payton Carter added four aces.
Sage Hill, meanwhile, defeated Northwood in three sets earlier Saturday to finish second in its pool. The Lightning (8-4) then started slow against Huntington Beach, but finished the first set on a 22-6 run.
They earned a match point in the second set on a kill by junior Kekai Whitford, one of her team-high 16 in the match to go along with 10 digs and two aces. But Huntington Beach won the last three points of the set, rallying for a 26-24 win.
The Lightning, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 3-A, also led the third set midway through, but couldn't finish it off. Halland McKenna had 11 kills, nine digs and four aces for Sage in the match, and Maddy Abbott dished out 27 assists.
"I thought we did good things in Game 3, too, but their block started to become more of a factor with their big middle blockers," Sage Coach Dan Thomassen said. "We just weren't mistake-free in the third game, and against a team like that you have to be nearly mistake-free. But I'm really proud of the girls. I really liked our girls' discipline. Our defense is getting better and better, and then our hitters are very good decision makers. We talk about it a lot, making sure we do the right play in the right situation, and I've got to give Huntington credit. They made some really nice digs at important times."
Mater Dei, which beat Los Al, takes on Redondo Union in the Division 1 championship final Monday night at approximately 7 p.m. at Edison High. Redondo beat Yorba Linda in a semifinal.