The first day back from the holiday break began with bad news for the Corona del Mar High boys' basketball team.
On Monday, senior Kevin Manchester injured his elbow in practice. Coach Ryan Schachter said Manchester slightly tore his ulnar collateral ligament and his season is most likely over. The timing isn't ideal, losing a two-year starter before the start of Pacific Coast League play, but that is where CdM found itself at the end of the school week.
The Sea Kings opened league against Irvine on Friday. During Schachter's tenure at CdM, the one team the Sea Kings always seem to thump is Irvine.
Even without Manchester, a 6-foot-4 center, the Sea Kings continued their winning ways against the Vaqueros. They blew out Irvine, 68-41, at home.
Make it nine straight times CdM has beat Irvine. The last time the Sea Kings lost to the Vaqueros, you have to go back five seasons. Back then, CdM finished with its worst league record under Schachter.
Injuries caught up to CdM that season. Schachter hopes the loss of Manchester doesn't hurt the Sea Kings too much this season, his eighth in charge.
"Not only [is Manchester] just a big guy, but our offense and our defense is much cleaner and crisper with him in there," said Schachter, who plans to use Quinn Bassler (6-5) and Ryan Moss (6-7) at center. "We're changing some things offensively without him, so it's going to take some time for us to do that."
Against Irvine, CdM could afford to play without Manchester, as well as Moss, who was out sick. The rest of the games in league will not be so easy for CdM (11-4, 1-0 in league).
The big test for CdM is Tuesday, when it travels to Woodbridge. Schachter said Woodbridge is the league favorite. The Sea Kings will miss Manchester, who last season helped CdM place second in league and reach the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs.
The Sea Kings, ranked No. 3 in the Division 3AA preseason poll, plan to make another deep run. They have a lot of depth and they showed it against Irvine (6-10, 0-1).
All 12 of the Sea Kings' available players saw action and each scored at least two points. Kevin Fults led CdM with 15 points. The junior forward got off to a hot start, making four shots in a row in the first quarter, before finishing seven of 11 from the field.
"He's been kind of struggling offensively recently, so it's great to see him get back [in a rhythm]," Schachter said of Fults, who added five rebounds.
Corona del Mar's Robby Bracho and Ryan Stone finished with eight points apiece, while Blake Flamson added seven.
From the beginning, the Sea Kings overwhelmed the Vaqueros with their stifling defense. They forced 17 turnovers and got two of Irvine's leading scorers, DJ Kim and Jeffrey DeKlotz, into foul trouble early. The two guards picked up their third fouls in the second quarter.
Pressure by CdM's guards Jeff Johnston, Bo St. Geme and Tyler Lopp affected Kim. The Sea Kings ran players at him, doubling him and picking him up at full court.
Kim, who went into the night averaging around 13 points per game, finished with two points. The junior fouled out 1 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter.
"When you get tired, you foul more," said Schachter, whose deep rotation causes problems for opposing teams because the Sea Kings are always fresh. "We have 13 guys that can come in and make an impact, which is a luxury, but it's tough sometimes to get that many guys in."
With Manchester out, that means one less player Schachter has to worry about finding time on the court. He wished it were the other way around.
"I felt a lot more confident before Monday," Schachter said when asked if CdM, without Manchester, can win its first section title since the 2006-07 season. "But you know what? We still have a lot of players. I'm still confident, but now we have to figure some things out."