CORONA DEL MAR — Saturday's match had almost everything the Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball crowd could want, especially in a nonleague regular-season match.
The defending national champion and No. 23-ranked team in the nation, according to the Powerade Fab 50 ESPN Rise rankings, hosting this season's No. 1-ranked team in the nation in the Loyola Cubs? Check.
A playoff atmosphere, with a sizable crowd coming from both teams and a large Sea Kings student section? Check.
An upset victory at Corona del Mar's gym? Not so much.
After a first set in which the Sea Kings matched the Cubs kill-for-kill nearly the entire way, Loyola took control just long enough to win, 29-27, 25-18, 25-20.
CdM (18-6) played well in one whale of a tuneup going into the final stretch before the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs, which begin in two weeks.
Corona del Mar, which is 7-0 atop the Pacific Coast League, plays its next match at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at second-place Irvine High and have three more league matches before the playoffs begin, including a Friday home match against Woodbridge. The Sea Kings close the regular-season at Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay on May 4.
CdM will not see the Cubs (21-0), who are in Division 1, in this spring's playoffs. Loyola is ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division 1.
"We'll find out what we learned as we continue to go through our season," said CdM Coach Steve Conti, whose team is ranked No. 2 in Division 2. "We were right there. It would've been nice to get that first game from them."
The Sea Kings were this close to getting that first set, but could not put away game point three times.
Senior outside hitter Parker Brown, who had a match-high 15 kills, delivered a kill down the sideline for a 24-23 lead just before CdM was denied three times on game point.
"I think our team was pretty confident going into the match," said Brown, who is narrowing down his college choice after recently visiting a few programs. "After the first game, we lost confidence. We knew we were in for a tough match. We learned who can get what job done, what each person's roles are. We learned we're very beatable. We can lose to any team and we can beat any team."
Brown later gave his team a 25-24 lead, but Remy Lamons' serve landed long. CdM middle blocker Jack Reed mistimed his jump and went up too early on a kill attempt, a rare big mistake by CdM that gave Loyola a 26-25 lead. Reed later jumped perfectly and had a huge block on Alex Slaught, for a 27-26 Corona del Mar lead. Reed, bound for UC Santa Barbara, had five kills and five blocks in the match.
But Loyola 6-foot-7 middle blocker Driss Guessous, an Ohio State-bound senior, gave his team the victory. He put down a vicious kill toward the back row to tie the game at 27, went high for a block for a one-point lead, then Brown's feet crossed the line for an illegal back-row attack.
Nick Porterfield, a UCLA-bound senior outside hitter, led Loyola with 13 kills. Slaught added 10 kills and Guessous had six.
"My outside blockers set up a good block for me," Guessous said. "CdM's always a good team for us to play. It's a good stepping stone going into the playoffs for us."
The second set began with Corona del Mar uncharacteristically playing out of sorts, with hits and digs flying all over the gym. But Brown's ace cut an early lead down to 12-9.
But the Cubs' balanced attack helped them get out to a lead as big as 21-14, with a few mistakes being made by the Sea Kings' defense. Reed put away a kill to keep his team alive at 24-18, but a CdM serve went wide and gave Loyola its 2-0 lead in sets.
"You could see their energy swell after that first game," Conti said of Loyola's confidence. "Our effort was there, but you saw some guys' efforts disappear after the first game."
Corona del Mar cut a huge 18-8 third-set lead down to 21-15, but Loyola put it away.
Sea Kings setter Joe Ctvrtlik had 29 assists. Jamie Christian and Lamons both had three kills. Kevin Gordinier had four digs.