The Corona del Mar High gym was in dire need of fans, not the kind who cheer, but the ones that blow air.
At 7 o'clock on Thursday night, it felt hot inside the CdM gym. Without air conditioning, the No. 2-seeded Sea Kings played host to San Juan Hills in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 boys' volleyball playoffs.
If both coaches had their way, the match would've been at San Juan Hills, which has an AC in its gym. Steve Conti, CdM's coach, came prepared, wearing flip-flops, while San Juan Hills' Tom Kohler did not.
"I'm not thrilled I'm wearing these," Kohler said, pointing at his grey slacks.
The Sea Kings wound up breaking into a heavy sweat, more so because of the heat, in their 25-14, 25-10, 25-21 sweep. Corona del Mar remained on fire, winning its 16th match in a row and advancing to the quarterfinals.
In the next round, CdM (26-2) will hit the road for the first time this postseason. The team won't travel far on Saturday, just to Dana Point to face Dana Hills, which beat Newbury Park, 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 25-21, in a second-round contest.
After getting past San Juan Hills (20-10), Conti looked ahead to the 7 p.m. matchup with Dana Hills (21-11), ranked No. 10 in the final Division 1 poll.
"They probably have one of the best setters in the county," Conti said, referring to Eric Mathesis. "They lost their best attacker [in Christian Hessenauer], who decided not to play. The kid was putting away 25 kills as a freshman. He's 6-5, 6-6 and jumps out of the gym. He's had some knee issues. He's already committed to UCLA. I really just need to focus on our team and what we do."
Conti's team appeared ready for San Juan Hills. The day before, when it hit 104 degrees in town, Conti still held practice. He told his players, "It's the environment we're going to be playing in."
When the match came, it took a little time for CdM to warm up. The two sides were even six times at the start of the opening set. At 8-8, the Sea Kings caught fire with strong serving by two Tommys — Tommy Brooks and Tommy Casey.
The Sea Kings closed out the first set on a 17-6 run. During the stretch, Casey recorded three service aces, and Augie Miller, Joey Martino and Ryan Moss stuffed shots. The opposing offense became a little bit predictable, and Pacific Coast League champion CdM slowed down Ryan Schickling, limiting the senior outside hitter to five kills.
"We started off way too slow," Kohler said of his Stallions, the No. 2 entry from the Sea View League. "The whole match was a fighting-from-behind kind of ordeal and in these playoff conditions that's not ideal, it's not ideal ever."
One common opponent San Juan Hills and CdM shared was Huntington Beach, the top seed. Back in March at the Orange County Championships, the Stallions took a set from the Oilers. Corona del Mar cannot even say that. Huntington Beach is the lone team to prevail against CdM this season, topping the Sea Kings twice.
The top two programs appear on a collision course. The Sea Kings want another shot at the Oilers, and they can earn one if both teams reach the Division 1 finale. Conti has the talent and depth to lead CdM to its first Division 1 finals appearance in 14 years.
Martino and Moss led the way in the second round with nine kills apiece, and the outside hitters combined for nine digs and two block assists. Miller, a middle blocker, finished with six kills and five block assists, while Brooks, a middle blocker, had four kills and one solo block. Setter Matt Ctvrtlik totaled 25 assists, four aces, three digs and one kill.
"We came out and we played with a lot more purpose than we did in our opener [against Studio City Harvard-Westlake]," Conti said. "Sometimes we find different ways to win. I thought our blocking was a lot better tonight, and I think that was attributed to the way we serving. We were serving tough."