At the start of the season, the Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball team lacked emotion on the court. The Sea Kings showed no signs of a rah-rah type of team.
The identity the team began to form bothered Coach Steve Conti. He constantly talked to his team about creating energy.
"At times you'd probably look at us and we're up, 2-1, in sets, but it doesn't look like we are," Conti said. "But … some things you can't force. Certainly as you're going through your season, and your team's playing well and [it's] being successful, sometimes you just got to let that team kind of create [its] own identity. It's not always the identity that the coach wants, it's kind of the identity that [the players] have within the team."
Tommy Brooks embodied CdM's style of play. The Sea Kings checked their emotions, playing even-keeled almost every time. They let their play speak for them.
Different teams find different ways to be successful. The Sea Kings' workmanlike approach resulted in a memorable season. They never got high, or low. At the end, the Sea Kings reached their peak.
Brooks led the way to the top, allowing CdM to go out as a winner. Brooks is the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year in boys' volleyball after lifting the Sea Kings to a CIF Southern California Regional Division II title on the final day in May.
"The bigger the match, the bigger role Tommy had in our game plan," Conti said. "He was his best when his best was needed."
In the last match of his CdM career, Brooks performed at his finest. The senior middle blocker finished with a career-high 24 kills, to go with one solo block, five block assists, three digs and one service ace in the Sea Kings' 25-18, 23-25, 25-16, 19-25, 15-9 win against Esperanza in the Southern California Regional Division II championship at Cerritos College.
The Sea Kings toppled the defending champion Aztecs, capping the season with a 30-3 record, as well their second Southern California Regional Division II crown since 2011. Brooks helped CdM slow down Esperanza's top threat, Jake Arnitz, in the first set, stuffing a couple of his shots. On the stat sheet, it read that he teamed up with someone else in the opening set to block Arnitz, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter, but Brooks should have earned solo blocks on both occasions.
"It's always great to get a block, especially on a guy like Arnitz, who's going to UCLA next year and he's a great volleyball player," Brooks said after the match.
Brooks is bound for UCLA as well, but not recruited to play volleyball at the school. He's talented enough to play volleyball on the next level.
Brooks turned into one of the elite and most consistent players in Orange County. Brooks totaled 239 kills, 82 blocks and 23 digs, earning him All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 and first-team All-Orange County accolades, a share of the Pacific Coast League MVP, and an invite to play in the 37th annual Dave Mohs Memorial Orange County High School All-Star Match for seniors.
Experience is another asset Brooks gave CdM. He started for the second straight season, both of which he made the Dream Team, and the Sea Kings made huge strides from his junior season. They went further in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, the second round in 2013, to almost the finale this year.
The run ended in the semifinals, a five-set heartbreaking loss at Los Angeles Loyola. Brooks said he will never forget how close CdM came to reaching the championship match in the top division for the first time in 14 years. Brooks did his part, hitting .454 with a dozen kills and one error, but it wasn't enough to set up a date with Huntington Beach, the only other team to beat CdM this season.
The season didn't end on a bad note. To Brooks' surprise, the Sea Kings received the top seed in the Southern California Regional Division II playoffs. With a second chance, the Sea Kings made the most of it. They went back to work, competed, and prevailed three times for the right to celebrate as champions. At this stage of the season, Brooks and the Sea Kings finally let loose.
"We completed a good amount of [our] goals, and [even] though we didn't get to the CIF [Southern Section Division 1] finals, the regional championship made up for it," Brooks said.
"It meant a lot to us, especially the seniors, to win the regional championship and go out with a bang."
OH | Corona del Mar