CORONA DEL MAR — Steve Astor's first chance to coach the Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team in front of the home fans came on Wednesday.
He said it felt totally normal coaching at his new school.
"I've coached here a good amount of times," said Astor, referring to his days when he led the Newport Harbor boys' team and assisted the Laguna Beach girls' team.
None of his former teams outdrew the home side as the Sea Kings' opponent, Mater Dei, did in CdM's home opener.
One week the Sea Kings traveled to face defending CIF State Division I champion Los Angeles Marymount, and in the next, they played host to one of the state's best teams this year.
Mater Dei began the match without its star player, Frankie Shebby. Coach Dan O'Dell said he sat her in the first set because she had not practiced this week because she was under the weather.
Shebby didn't start the match, but she sure finished it strong.
The only set the Monarchs dropped was the first, the one Shebby missed. When Shebby played, Mater Dei, ranked No. 7 in the state by CalHiSports.com, never lost again.
The Monarchs defeated No. 11 CdM, 19-25, 26-24, 25-22, 25-23, giving them their second win against one of the state's elite programs in the last five days.
Shebby's performance, 19 kills, wasn't the only reason why Mater Dei (2-0) handed the Sea Kings their first setback. The Monarchs' other senior outside hitter, Elise Zappia, produced 20 kills, ruining Astor's home debut.
Things might have ended on a happier note for Astor if his team had shut the door in the second set.
The Sea Kings (1-1) appeared on their way to taking their second straight set. They led, 21-15, in the second set, before Mater Dei closed things out on an 11-3 run.
"We were kind of lucky we got that Game 2 while [Shebby] was getting back into the swing of things," O'Dell said. "You saw what happened when she got into a rhythm in Games 3 and 4, she was pretty unstoppable."
Shebby came through down the stretch of the third set.
She pounded five kills, including the clincher to put Mater Dei ahead, 2-1, in sets. The momentum stayed with the Monarchs in the fourth set.
They jumped out to a 17-6 lead. Astor asked for a timeout after Zappia's service ace.
"In Game 4, if we just laid down at 16-7, and had gotten beat, it would've been bad," said Astor, whose team rallied in the fourth set, going on a 13-4 run and tying the set at 20-20 with sophomore middle blocker Natalia Bruening's kill. "It's great to see us fight when we're down so much to such a good team.
"Overall, I'm happy. Like I told the girls all along, worry about the process right now, I'm not worried about the win-loss stuff."
Astor expects to see more quality teams starting on Friday, the first day of the Dave Mohs Memorial Tournament. The Sea Kings open the three-day tournament at home against Goleta Dos Pueblos at 3:30 p.m.
Mater Dei is also in the tournament. The Monarchs and Sea Kings can meet again in a couple of days.
Before O'Dell saw the tournament schedule, someone joked with him that his team starts pool play against CdM. He responded with, "Jokers over here!"
O'Dell, in his first year with the Monarchs, saw enough of the young Sea Kings. They might lack experience, but the former UCLA women's assistant volleyball coach knows the Sea Kings are talented.
One of the best players in the country, Hayley Hodson, plays for CdM. The junior outside hitter has assumed a different role on a team with only one senior starter (opposite Jules Pouch).
"In the past, I've kind of been the baby on the team," said Hodson, who finished with 17 kills, eight more than fellow junior outside Katie Craig's total. "It's fun to step into that leadership role and kind of nurture the younger girls."