Though the playoff draw might not have been, graduation should be kind to this year's Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team.
With their only senior starter out with an injury Saturday night, the Sea Kings were overtaken by visiting Mater Dei, 23-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-15, in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section 1AA playoffs.
But with 6-foot-2 outside hitter Hayley Hodson back to anchor the rest of a lineup that gained valuable seasoning in a 24-7 campaign under first-year coach Steve Astor that included a pair of losses to the Monarchs (29-6), the Sea Kings should prove a supreme challenge for all comers next season.
"We weren't thinking about next year at all this year," said Astor, who credited the play of Mater Dei, which he called the most physically gifted team in the section. "We have three seniors, [including 5-11 senior co-captain Jules Pouch, who dislocated her ankle in an earlier playoff victory and was forced to contribute only as a cheerleader on Saturday], so we wanted to continue on for them. But next year, I guess we will have more continuity and be able to pick up where we left off."
The Sea Kings picked up an opening-set victory as Hodson hammered eight of her match-high 25 kills.
"[Hodson] has been great for us all year," Astor said of the coveted recruit who is believed to be leaning toward Stanford. "Plus, her leadership in Game 4, when we were getting beat pretty good was impressive. She was trying to get the girls back together. That just shows her character. Her character impresses me more than her volleyball skills."
Katie Craig, a 5-8 junior outside hitter, also played well, providing eight kills and consistent energy.
Samantha Jones, a 6-0 junior middle blocker, was in on four blocks and added three kills, while sophomore opposite Jessie Harris was in on three blocks, had three kills, and added one ace.
Payton Carter, a sophomore libero, added one ace, but it was the Monarchs who came up aces more often. The visitors, guided by former UCLA women's assistant Dan O'Dell, collected 10 aces, including six by senior Jaden Pickell and three by Oregon-bound senior outside hitter Frankie Shebby.
Senior outside hitter Elise Zappia, who was also a key component in Mater Dei's four-game win over CdM on Sept. 11, led the winners with 22 kills.
Shebby finished with 16 kills and Pickell added nine while senior middle blocker Sami Krackower, junior middle and Newport Beach resident Brittany Welsh (six kills) and junior setter Payton Chang rounded out a talented core for the Monarchs, who finished second behind Orange Lutheran in the Trinity League.
"We ran into a buzz saw tonight," Astor said. "Mater Dei had one of its best performances, I'd say. [The Monarchs] just out-executed us and played better. All six positions can put the ball away and when they are playing like that, I don't think anyone is going to beat them."
CdM, unbeaten in Pacific Coast League play, had plenty with which to be proud in 2013, Astor said.
"It's hard to reflect back after a loss, but we had a really good season," Astor said. "But when you have the most physically gifted team in CIF and they play well, it's kind of hard to beat them."
That may be a reality CdM opponents are forced to face next season.