If you have been a reader of Volleyball magazine and/or VolleyballMag.com over the past few years, the initials “CdM” have been a common occurrence during the spring.
And this year is no different.
“CdM” is the highly successful Corona del Mar High School boys volleyball team from Newport Beach, Calif., that once again had itself a season to remember.
Coach Steve Conti’s crew took its rivalry with nearby neighbor Newport Harbor to a new level this season, defeating Harbor for the CIF Southern Section Division I title and the CIF SoCal Division I regional title (akin to a California state championship). It’s only the second time in the program’s storied history that it has won both section and regional titles in the same year (2011 is the other time).
For its accomplishments after a 36-4 season, the Sea Kings are the 2018 VolleyballMag.com/TallSlim Tees Boys’ High School Team of the Year.
“We had a talented team with some special individuals on it,” said Conti, who now has directed CdM to seven CIF titles and four CIF SoCal/regional titles. “We had a few player-of-the-year candidates, but more importantly it was how we came together at the end. We dealt with a great deal of adversity throughout the year, but we got healthy and we were able to have our best lineup back before the playoffs. It’s about the things the things you try to teach along the way and in the end we all got on the same page.”
Conti started six seniors this season, all of whom will play in college: Brandon Browning (USC), Tyler Flood (New York University), Brandon Hicks (UC Santa Barbara; transferred from Mater Dei H.S., after attending CdM’s middle school), Kevin Kobrine (UCLA), Patrick Paragas (UC Santa Barbara) and Diego Perez (Orange Coast College). Browning was named the CIF Southern Section Division I player of the year and was joined on the all-CIF team by teammates Kobrine and Hicks.
“That’s pretty special,” Conti said. “We were pretty good in a lot of situations. It allowed me to game-plan in different ways depending on the strengths and weaknesses.
“We had the advantage of not relying on one guy to get 30 kills for us. We spread the ball around and that kept other teams guessing. Brandon Browning is one of the best passers I’ve coached technically. Kevin Kobrine is one of the most athletic kids we’ve had. Patrick Paragas can locate the ball and ran our offense and had a high volleyball lQ and we had a great 1-2 punch in the middle with Brandon Hicks and Tyler Flood.”
But in order for CdM to rule the CIF roost, it had to get through Harbor, which it played four times this season, losing the first two during the regular season with a variety of starters missing in both contests (Orange County tournament final and the usual Battle of the Bay non-conference contest).
“People don’t understand the rivalry,” he said. “The closest thing I can compare it to is USC-UCLA. And this is in any sport. When it comes to volleyball, both teams have storied programs and players whether it’s Kevin Hansen or April Ross or Misty May or Cody Caldwell. These are two storied volleyball programs because of the individuals that have come through it.”
Conti noted CdM, which won its last 19 matches (after losing to Harbor the second time) and lost only 14 sets all season, made 21 service errors and had only one service ace in the five-set CIF final win that went 15-13 in the finale. The win ended Harbor’s undefeated season. The Sailors came into the match with a 32-0 record.
“Newport Harbor has very good ball control,” he said.
A week later, the Sea Kings capped off the season in style front of their home crowd with another win against Harbor, but this time by a 3-0 count to cap off the eight-team SoCal regional bracket.
“We played our best match of the year,” Conti said. “We did an incredibly good job. We played a clean match. We had eight hitting errors the entire match. The match was scheduled for 6 p.m., and it sold out at 5:15 p.m. The energy in the gym was amazing. It was electric. It was the battle of the bay. It’s a match the entire community looks forward to. The kids all know each other and it makes for a competitive rivalry, but it’s also one that is healthy.”
Conti said the sustained success of the program boils down to the players that walk through the doors each season.
“It does start with the kids we get in here,” he said. “You don’t always control who will be on the team. We’ve been fortunate to get five good freshmen groups in a row. The kids have created an environment and culture of winning here. We’re fortunate to be able to have this.
“Michael Boehle had a great run at Loyola (High School in Los Angeles) of 10-12 years where he had good groups. Our JV team lost one match this year and the freshmen had no losses. It’s been the same way the last couple years with our lower-level teams. They see what the varsity has done and they see that success and they want to experience it. They like the taste of it. The hardest thing is that this doesn’t happen because it’s CdM. There are other schools around here that are very talented such as Mira Costa, Newport Harbor and Loyola. We still have to work hard to get better. If we don’t do that, those types of teams will get us in matches.”
But in the end this year it was CdM, which now has appeared in both the CIF S-S Division I final and the CIF SoCal Division I final in each of the last four years, that once again stood tall in the nation’s toughest boys high-school volleyball region.