Friday turned out to be atypical for Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball coach Steve Conti.
In the morning, eight hours before the Sea Kings' regular-season finale, Conti learned his team earned a No. 2 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. He tried to keep the news from his players, believing it might affect them in preparation for the Battle of the Bay at rival Newport Harbor. What the players already knew was the Sailors' season would end later that evening.
For the first time in Conti's 19 years as CdM's coach, the annual match against Newport Harbor featured only one postseason bound team, his. The contest wraps up the regular season, giving both teams a taste of the playoffs before the playoffs begin.
The Sea Kings appear in postseason form. In front of a packed gym, CdM topped the Sailors, 25-16, 25-19, 24-26, 25-18.
"This is definitely a playoff atmosphere, and that's one of the great reasons why to play this match at this time of the year," Conti said. "[The match] almost kind of concerns me more, because I think [the Sailors] can kind of play loose and kind of play free. I think what kind of evened that out, or leveled that out is just knowing that we … lost to these guys when we had some opportunities to win this match last year [at CdM].
"There [are] a lot of guys that played in that match that are back on [my] team. Brett Schisler was on our team last year, but was injured and couldn't play in this match [last year]. Listen, if you're not motivated to come out against these guys, who are you going to be motivated against?"
The Sea Kings (24-2) came out ready, never underestimating an opponent dealt a huge blow on Wednesday. Newport Harbor (10-20) isn't competing in the playoffs because it dropped a five-set match to Edison in a Sunset League playoff match for third place.
Two days later, the Sailors faced a section championship contender, and early on, they had no answers. The Sea Kings clicked in the opening set. They boasted a balanced attack, with outside hitter Joey Martino recording five of his 17 kills.
On the other side of the net, Clay Carr carried the Sailors, finishing with 24 kills. He produced five kills, a block and a service ace in Game 1. In the next set, the Pepperdine-bound senior added eight kills and another ace.
With a little help, Newport Harbor kept its season alive, avoiding a sweep. Grady Kimme hammered four kills in Game 3. Kimme is a player Conti is familiar with, having taught him down the street at Ensign Intermediate School.
The season has been a difficult one for Kimme and the Sailors under Bryan Cottriel, in his first season at the helm of the program. They faced a robust schedule, ending the year well below .500. Had they finished .500 or better, the Sailors make the playoffs as an at-large entry.
"I can never root for those guys when we're playing them, but certainly knowing some kids, you kind of hope that they kind of do well. They're good kids," Conti said. "At the same time, Trent Jackson, the coach at Edison, is a very good friend of mine, too. I surf with Trent all summer.
"This [Newport Harbor] team has beat teams [like Santa Margarita] that are in the top 10 in CIF. They're a young team, and I can relate to that because we were a very young team [last year]. We had freshmen and four sophomores last year."
The Sea Kings are more experienced, and outside hitter Ryan Moss, one of those sophomores last year, believes CdM can handle the big moment now. Their run at a section title starts on Tuesday, when the Sea Kings play host to Studio City Harvard-Westlake (10-8-2) in the first round at 7 p.m.
Last season, when CdM made the playoffs, Cottriel served as an assistant under Conti. On the other side of the Back Bay now, many of the same faces Cottriel helped coach — Martino, Moss (16 kills), middle blocker Tommy Brooks (16) and opposite Kevin Fults (10) — hammered the Sailors. Setter Matt Ctvrtlik made sure to involve everyone, collecting 47 assists, to go with six digs.
"It was definitely a different feel," Moss said of the Battle of the Bay, "but we still respected them. We lost to them [in five sets] last year. This is a huge match for us, no matter how good they are, and we took it seriously.
"It's definitely a great way to end our season going into the playoffs. It was great to get some revenge this year."