LONG BEACH — Corona del Mar High Coach Steve Astor had never seen Long Beach Wilson in person. In the film he studied, it was hard for him to decipher what kind of a girls' volleyball team the Sea Kings were going to face on Thursday.
They ended up playing a dynamic one.
On the road, the third-seeded Sea Kings met their first challenge of the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA playoffs. They passed, topping an athletic Bruin side, 25-22, 18-25, 28-26, 25-16, in the second round.
The Sea Kings (25-5) advanced to the quarterfinals on Saturday, when they will play host to Mater Dei (30-5). Hayley Hodson and CdM's defensive play led the way to the next round.
While the junior outside hitter amassed 28 kills, CdM's defense elevated its play in the third set. At this stage, with the Sea Kings and Bruins splitting the first two sets, the third set was up for grabs.
By the time the score was 13-13, it marked the sixth time the teams were even. The hosts then took a 17-14 lead, forcing Astor to call a timeout.
"I thought we were playing OK. I just told them to play with a little more passion on defense," Astor said. "We talk about playing with passion in the playoffs and we really showed that on defense."
Astor's team returned to the court and scrapped.
The Sea Kings, with the help of Paige Migliori, went ahead, 19-18, after her back-to-back service aces. The junior's serve came alive at the right time.
When sophomore star Milan Stokes (21 kills) kept hammering shots down the stretch to tie the third set or put the Bruins ahead, CdM responded. Katie Craig recorded one of her 14 kills, followed by one by Migliori on a dump.
Migliori contributed in many ways, setting the offense up and playing opposite. Astor said the Sea Kings lost starting opposite Jules Pouch, one of only three CdM seniors, to an ankle injury in the first-round sweep of Palos Verdes Peninsula on Tuesday.
It was up to Migliori and Jessie Harris to find Hodson. And they did, as the two combined for 45 assists.
With the Bruins (25-9) at set point in the third, the CdM setters went to Hodson and she delivered, dropping in a winner. The third set wasn't over.
Hodson produced five kills late, including the last two points, clinching the third set for CdM at 28-26. Payton Carter, a libero, gave Hodson a chance, digging out a Stokes ball.
Hodson collected 11 kills in that third set, the most in any of the four sets. She was unstoppable.
"She had an amazing [match]," Long Beach Wilson Coach Carlos Briceno said of Hodson. "I couldn't believe some of the things she was doing. She could hit the high line, the high angle, the sharp angle. It was really tough to defend her. We put our biggest block on her and we'd send two people out on her, just waiting on her, and she still found a way to score."
Hodson isn't done. She is the lone returning starter from last year's team that reached the semifinals.
In the way of CdM getting back to the semis this year is Mater Dei. This is one team Astor is familiar with. He's seen the Monarchs in action, on CdM's floor.
Back in September, Mater Dei beat the Sea Kings in four sets.