A week ago, when the Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball season appeared in limbo, Coach Steve Conti was sure of one thing.
If the Sea Kings continued to play after suffering a difficult five-set loss at Los Angeles Loyola in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, the next semifinal appearance in a postseason wouldn't take place at CdM. The CdM gym wouldn't be available.
The Sea Kings wound up earning the top seed in the CIF Southern California Regional Division II playoffs on Sunday. Four days later that semifinal match came and it was supposed to be at home.
A middle school awards ceremony on Thursday night bumped the Sea Kings' contest against No. 4 South Pasadena to the other side of the Back Bay, at rival Newport Harbor. The venue hardly affected the Sea Kings, as they swept, 25-18, 25-16, 25-20, to reach the Southern California Regional Division II final for the second time since 2011.
"I would say this is the closest thing to our home away from home," Conti said of Newport Harbor's gym.
"I just told [my players] there was an event [at CdM on Thursday night]. There was an awards night that was already pre-planned and invitations went out, there was no way we could switch it."
Conti said his players weren't bummed about not playing on the CdM campus one last time this season. All that matters is that they will play for an award, a Southern California Regional Division II title on Saturday against No. 2 Esperanza (29-6) at Cerritos College at 5 p.m.
The site is where CdM came so close to reaching last Saturday to compete in the Southern Section Division 1 finale. Loyola rallied to beat CdM in one of the most insanely competitive matches in Conti's 19 years as CdM's coach.
The Southern California Regional Division II playoffs have given the Sea Kings a second life.
"We were hoping to get to that championship match last Saturday, and certainly had some opportunities," Conti said. "But I said the one thing that can kind of take that sting away is, you know, if we're fortunate to get to this tournament, which we were, is to go ahead and play well enough and that will take some of that sting away."
Corona del Mar has swept its two opponents in the Southern California Regional Division II playoffs. The normal cast of CdM performers — Joey Martino (nine kills), Tommy Brooks (six kills, five block assists), Ryan Moss (nine kills), Augie Miller (eight kills) and Kevin Fults (three kills), proved to be too much for South Pasadena (21-3) to handle.
Matt Ctvrtlik dished out 31 assists for CdM, adding 10 digs, four block assists, three kills and one service ace. The Sea Kings pounced on South Pasadena, the Southern Section Division 3 champion, early on. They led, 7-1, forcing South Tigers Coach Benjamin Diaz to call a timeout.
"They live by the beach," Diaz said of the Sea Kings, "so they should be somewhat good."
The Sea Kings are a talented bunch, the most talented not to play for a Southern Section crown.
For CdM to claim its second Southern California Regional Division II title in the program's history, it will have to knock off another Southern Section champion in Esperanza, which won the Division 2 title on Saturday. Conti saw some of Esperanza's finale online. He said it was too painful to attend the match at Cerritos College because his team fell short of making it in Division 1.
Conti and the Sea Kings made sure they're going to Cerritos College this time around.
"Certainly I think there's some things that we learned from that loss … up at Loyola. Don't take things for granted when you're that close. Focus, and you got to kind of push through a little bit," said Conti, whose team had match point twice at Loyola. "I'm just glad that we have another chance to learn from this experience.
"[The loss at Loyola is] always going to be there. It certainly will take some of that sting away [playing for the Southern California Regional Division II championship]. There's nothing better as a senior than being able to play your last match and hopefully win it. We got six seniors [Martino, Brooks, Tommy Casey, Brett Schisler, Jack Molnar and Andrew Boukather] that we want to be able to send off, hopefully the right way."