IRVINE -- Slow starts seemed to become the norm for Corona del Mar, but as the boys’ volleyball team proved again Saturday, the finish is the only thing that matters.
Corona del Mar dropped its first game to Westlake before seizing control of a 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-20 victory that gave the Sea Kings the Southern California Division II Championship.
Students stormed the floor after the final point, a ball hit wide by the fifth-seeded Warriors (30-6), who reached the final by beating the No. 1 team in the nation, Mater Dei.
Second-seeded Corona del Mar, ranked No. 6 nationally by ESPN Rise -- before a victory over No. 2 Santa Margarita in the semifinals -- finished 33-4.
By the time the match ended, junior Parker Brown said he and his teammates were almost perfect.
“It was really close to the best we can play,” said Brown, who had 14 kills, seven digs and an ace for the Sea Kings.
Steve Conti, the CdM coach, agreed: “It’s as close as we’ve come to competitive greatness, which we define as being your best when your best is needed.”
Westlake was impressive in the first game behind the play of Keats Stanley and Colby Magorien. The Warriors led 13-3 and only once let CdM get as close as six points.
But Corona del Mar warmed to the task, stopped pointing fingers and started scoring points. “We came into the game very excited, maybe too excited, and we were getting frustrated with each other,” Brown said.
Conti said his team exceeded his own high expectations this season in which it played well early, leveled off in the middle, and got jump-started in the Battle of the Bay in the regular-season finale.
“The Newport Harbor match sparked that growth,” said Conti, one of those coaches who focuses more on the journey than the wins and losses.
Said Brown: “At the beginning of the year we were a little shaky but now we’re playing as a whole unit instead of one or two people trying to carry the whole team.”
Westlake led as late as 21-20 in the third game, but the Warriors couldn’t finish. Brennan Anderson’s kill and Spencer Haly’s block gave CdM the 25-23 win.
Westlake put up a fight in the fourth game, and led 12-10, but Brown, Haly and Jack Reed turned it on, and then three of CdM’s final four points came on kills by Anderson.
Anderson matched Brown with 14 kills and had 13 digs and three aces. Reed had seven kills, and Haly had six kills with five blocks.
“They serve you smart and don’t make any errors,” said Westlake coach Doug Magorien. “To beat that team, you have to pass great and play great.”
Westlake didn’t. And, in the end, it might not have mattered.
“We’ve been coming out a little slow,” Haly said, “but that’s the way this team works.”