NEWPORT BEACH – There haven’t been many times recently where the Corona del Mar boys volleyball team was challenged in league play as it was Thursday night.
Top-ranked CdM entered a Pacific Coast League match against fourth-ranked Beckman on Thursday riding a 102-match league winning streak that dates back to 2006.
Number 103 almost didn’t happen.
After Corona del Mar won the first two sets, the Patriots rallied and forced the match to a fifth set, but eventually CdM prevailed on consecutive blocks from Mitch Haly that fell untouched to the floor. The match scores were 25-23, 25-14, 18-25, 23-25, 15-13.
“I think we had a lot of guys that just weren’t ready to play,” CdM coach Steve Conti said. “I think we showed a little bit of immaturity tonight and at the same time, that’s a lethal team. They have one of the best outsides (Spencer Olivier) and their coach (Darin McBain) does a really good job.
“They kind of switched some things, slowed us down and we kind of got punched in the mouth and we didn’t really respond the way I would have liked to have seen our guys respond. The outcome could have been different and I just like to see our guys respond a little bit differently than we did. I think we were more mentally prepared to play these guys the last time. I don’t think we played bad, we just played exceptionally well and we beat them. We were lucky to even steal game one. We have to learn from this.”
The Patriots (28-4, 5-2), who lost to CdM (19-2, 7-0) in three sets on April 6, started their comeback behind the arm of Olivier, who connected on seven kills in the third set to give the team some life.
In the fourth, Beckman led 24-20, only to have CdM trim the score to 24-23, but Olivier delivered on set point to extend the match to a deciding fifth set.
Beckman opened the fifth set with the first three points. CdM took its first lead at 7-6. The rest of the match was a side-out battle up to 13-13.
“We’ve been preaching for awhile now that the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team just seems to be a lack of mental toughness,” McBain said. “As coaches, we’ve really just tried to stay with it, even though we were frustrated after game two as well. We had to make sure we kept on these guys. We’ve been doing it the last couple of days in practice, just focusing on that next ball, side-out and see if we can get on a run.
“We’ve got talent, it’s just a matter of mentally being able to push through some of those tight situations. We were 28-3 coming on, so on paper, we look like a pretty good team, but I don’t feel like we’re at our peak and I thought tonight we started to inch a little bit closer to that.”
The key point came with the Patriots leading 13-12 and the ball going to Olivier, but somehow a CdM blocker was able to score.
“We dig a ball and we’re setting our best hitter on the right side, but their outside made a great move to block the ball,” McBain said. “If…