Volleyball championships end with a stunner

CYPRESS -- To get an idea of how much of a breeze the Southern Section volleyball championships had been for Santa Margarita, it had not lost a single game through four playoff matches.

Saturday night, though, the second-seeded Eagles got the air choked out of them by Trinity League rival Mater Dei.

Continuing a run that is nothing short of spectacular, Mater Dei — the unheralded team at the beginning of the season that wasn't ranked by anybody — scored a stunning 22-25, 25-18, 17-25, 25-20, 18-16 victory over Santa Margarita.

Now it doesn't look as if anyone can hang with the Monarchs (28-3), who won their first section title in four tries.

They beat top-seeded Mira Costa in the quarterfinals, and now have beaten the other team that was the class of Division 1. They also ended the regular season with a sweep of Santa Margarita after getting swept on two other occasions.

"This is straight up unbelievable," said Zach La Cavera, who had 27 kills and held the championship plaque while the throng that circled him chanted "MVP, MVP."

It was unbelievable. No team in the playoffs had finished closer than 25-21 in any game against Santa Margarita (32-3). Even after losing the first game, it seemed a stretch that the Eagles would lose two in a row after seizing Game 3.

In fact, Santa Margarita held leads of 13-10 and 14-12 in Game 5. But La Cavera answered, and a carry by the Eagles tied the score at 14-14.

At 15-15 came the defining play in the match. From the back row, UC Irvine-bound La Cavera simply passed the ball over the net in an attempt to keep the point alive. Somehow, the ball fell into an open space as Eagles players watched.

"That was luck," John Henry said. "That's never going to happen again."

Tied at 16-16, Henry's kill made it 17-16, and then Santa Margarita's Spencer Buckley was wide with his return, which set off a celebration as fans stormed the court.

"Unfortunately, we miscommunicated on that play," said Bryan Cottriel, the Santa Margarita coach. "There's a lot of pressure. They're kids. It got to them.

"They did everything they needed to do to beat us."

If there was a pivotal point in the match, it came in the fourth game. Henry, a 6-foot-5 middle blocker headed to Long Beach State, had three consecutive blocks to tie the score at 10-10

"I was getting riled up that we were down," said Henry, who only had four blocks in the match to go along with seven kills. "I tried to take it into my own hands."

Coach Adam Cutrell — hired two weeks before the season — called the sequence huge.

"If anything, it showed we were sticking around, that we weren't going anywhere," he said. "It showed our guys that it doesn't matter if you're playing Crespi or Mira Costa or Santa Margarita, defense is defense."

A succession of Santa Margarita errors bookended by La Cavera's kills turned a 14-11 deficit into a 16-14 lead, and La Cavera's ace made it 17-14. Mater Dei never lost the lead as La Cavera hit winners on four of the Monarchs' remaining eight points for 25-20 win.

"From losing last year in the first round of the playoffs to winning the CIF finals is amazing," La Cavera said. "We can beat anyone. Everyone expected us to lose."

Not anymore.

Division 2

Top-seeded Corona del Mar Mar defeated second-seeded Laguna Beach, 23-25, 25-15, 25-14, 25-16, giving the school a seventh section title. It had been tied with Laguna Beach and Mira Costa, and now only Loyola (11) has won more volleyball championships.

It was the third time this season that CdM had beaten the Breakers, and though it was the 52nd meeting — CdM now holds a 30-22 advantage — it was the first time they had faced each other in a final.

Brennan Anderson and Parker Brown had 11 kills apiece for Corona del Mar, which failed to sweep its playoff opponent for the first time.

Division 3: Cerritos Valley Christian d. Burbank Burroughs, 27-25, 25-27, 25-17, 25-16

Division 4: Santa Monica d. San Gabriel, 22-25, 28-26, 25-21, 25-23

Division 5: Chadwick d. Vistamar, 25-18, 16-25, 25-16, 18-25, 15-10