Contest shapes up between longtime rivals
Laguna Beach (20-10 this season) held off a talented player in Chris Long and his Beckman Patriots on Tuesday at Dugger Gym, pulling out a 26-28, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22 victory and an opportunity to defend their Southern Section CIF title Saturday, May 21, at Cypress College.
Their opponent, long-time nemesis Corona del Mar, also advanced to the finals with a sweep of Sea View league champions Trabuco Hills.
Both squads have won six section titles but have never played each other in the finals.
Breakers held the advantage through most of the first set before Beckman rallied to tie the set at 19. The sea-saw battle continued and the Breakers lost an opportunity to win at 27-25 but misplayed an overpass kill attempt.
Breakers took a 3-2 lead in the second set and never looked back winning 25-22. Laguna broke a 3-3 tie in the third set and rolled to 25-19 win. The fourth set clearly showed determination by both teams as they battled for every point. Breakers built leads but could never really take a run to finish. Down 22-15, Beckman staged a closing rally taking advantage of Laguna miscues and nerves to pull within one point at 23-21. Solid play by Robbie McKnight scored the final points, sending the squad to a classic dog-pile celebration.
McKnight hammered out 41 kills on 74 attempts with two blocks, five assists, and 11 digs. His jump serving was sharp too as Laguna earned the most points while McKnight served.
Alek Burk was sharp defensively with 10 digs and 29 serve receive passes. Coach Lance Stewart credited Burk’s passing as critical to the Breaker win. Jack Winn earned a career high 52 assists.
Laguna earned to slot in the semi-final match with a 25-14, 25-28-26, 25-11 win over Arroyo Grande on Thursday, May 12, followed by a 23-25, 25-17, 25-18, 25-14 win over Irvine on Saturday, May 14, at Dugger Gym. In Saturday’s match, McKnight had 26 kiils and Austin Hillemann 14 with Alek Burk at 10.
When the volleyball season started back in March, it was clear that a veteran Corona del Mar squad would be the team to beat for 2011. The defending D-II champion Breakers lost four key players from last season’s championship squad and would need to develop their own 2011 identity as they competed for this season’s honors. Just before the start of the season, outside hitter Austin Hillemann went down with a severe ankle injury and was forced to miss most of the grueling pre-season schedule. Hillemann returned for the final non-league match tying McKnight for kills in a tough five-set loss to Newport Harbor. Breakers then competed in a 10-match league season that gave little opportunity for the team to show a playoff level edge.
Corona del Mar (28-4) will present a real challenge for Laguna with their balance attack. Breakers are well aware that opponents have realized Robbie McKnight’s dominance in the Laguna offense and will try to get Hillemann, Burk, Colin Ceithaml, and Max Mc Carter into the offensive mix. Breakers lost to the Sea Kings in the Orange County Tournament 29-27, 25-27, 15-8 and in a regulation match 25-18, 26-24, 25-17.
Breakers have a chance to show they belong back on the Southern Section’s big stage at the finals on Saturday. Laguna leads the best-of-five set series 29-22.
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