Going into the week, the Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball team had three Pacific Coast League home matches before it skips town. Spring break is next week and the Sea Kings are bound for Hawaii.
The Sea Kings played the second match on Thursday, and they dropped their first set in league this season. That's all they lost, before topping Northwood, 25-11, 25-16, 23-25, 25-15, to improve to 4-0 in league.
Corona del Mar returns to its gym on Friday to face University at 5:15 p.m. The contest wraps up the first round of league for the defending league champion. Then the Sea Kings are off for Honolulu to compete in the Clash of the Titans showcase.
The team departs on Monday for the two-day, four-team event that features host Punahou, Kamehameha Hawaii and Manhattan Beach Mira Costa. The programs from California will play the Hawaii teams once, starting on April 11.
Before the Sea Kings meet Punahou and Kamehameha, they will be going up against each other. Many times their practices are more fiery than their actual matches turn out.
Steve Conti, in his 19th season as CdM's coach, implemented a new system in practice called the "Competitive Cauldron." Players compete against each other and they earn results on a daily basis.
"Dean Smith is the one who kind of started [the Competitive Cauldron]," Conti said of the former North Carolina men's basketball coach, "and the UNC [women's] soccer coach [Anson Dorrance] has kind of implemented it and kind of mastered it over the last 20 years. They do it with everything, in the offseason, in the weight room, everything they make competitive. We see a lot of good things that are kind of taking place. We feel like we're having to talk a little bit less in practice. We see the guys being more naturally motivated, too.
"We wanted to really put a tremendous amount of focus on being competitive. We've got some great athletes, but it takes more than just being a good athlete. There are some intangible things that make certain teams special, and certainly being very competitive is one of those intangibles."
The system is working for the Sea Kings (14-2), ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1. Their only setbacks have come against defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion Huntington Beach.
Conti said the Sea Kings entered the matchup with Northwood (10-6, 1-2 in league) coming off one of their best practices of the season. It showed in the first two sets, as junior outside hitter Ryan Moss and senior middle blocker Tommy Brooks hammered winners.
Moss led CdM with 23 kills on 43 attempts, with no errors. Moss, a USC commit, was efficient. Brooks finished with a typical Brooks performance, 12 kills on 19 attempts, with only one error.
In the third set, Conti switched up the CdM lineup. He can afford to do that with a deep roster. The result wasn't the one he or his team preferred. Northwood claimed the set with a balanced attack that featured opposite Brad Weyand (13 kills) and outside hitter Cameron White (11 kills).
Conti brought back his key players, Moss, along with middle blocker Augie Miller (seven kills), outside hitter Joey Martino (five kills), opposite Kevin Fults (five kills), libero Tommy Casey (six digs) and setter Matt Ctvrtlik, for the fourth set. And CdM got back on track, jumping out to a 10-2 lead. Ctvrtlik got the offense rolling, and amassed 50 assists.
"I think we're still playing very well and we're pretty efficient, but the one thing that we're not seeing in matches that we're seeing in practice is just a little bit more intensity," said Conti, who returns several players from last season's team and expects a deeper run in the postseason than last season's second-round exit. "Our communication is better, there's just better energy in practice than there's been in some of our games.
"I like this team. I think this team has a lot of great attributes. The best attribute is the team."