Tradition lends a hand in Mira Costa High School CIF volleyball championship

                                                                       

Coach Avery Drost. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

When the Mira Costa boys volleyball team won the CIF Southern Section title Friday night in front of 1,500 delirious fans in their brand-new gym it felt like the glorious end of an inspiring championship season.

It wasn’t.

It could easily get even more glorious.

Mira Costa will now host a semifinal state championship tournament game Thursday night. If it wins that game, Costa will host the state championship game Saturday night. They were scheduled to play a first-round home game Tuesday night, but that changed Sunday when the Mustangs were given a bye for the quarterfinals.

The promising prospect of two straight state tournament home games in Fisher Gymnasium is one of the rewards for the Mustang’s winning their first CIF championship since 2012.

Coach Mike Cook with players, some of whom’s dads he coached. Photo by Ray Vidal

“We’re celebrating winning CIF right now,” Coach Avery Drost said Saturday night. “But we’ll get back to work Monday and I’m sure the kids will be ready to play again.”

His championship team displayed everything that a CIF winner needs while beating Newport Harbor: laser-like serves, tenacious digs, powerful kill shots and monster blocks, galore.

Best of all, the team worked as a smooth unit, with smart passing to get the right players taking the right shots at the right time. Every time Newport Harbor looked like it was about to turn the game into a real dog-fight – like when it stormed back from a big deficit to win the second set — Mira Costa had an answer that slammed the door shut on the Sailors and their title aspirations.

But Costa also had a couple of extra ingredients that helped Drost brew up a memorable title run for the team he has coached for the last four years.

First there was his decision to ask former long-time Mira Costa Head Coach Mike Cook to join his varsity staff. Cook, who won six CIF titles during his long tenure at the Mustangs’ helm, gladly accepted.   

“Cooker has a super old school volleyball mind,” Drost said. “He’s seen everything and knows everything there is to know about high school volleyball.”

The idea was to have Cook take on an Obi-Wan-Kenobi type of role with the team. 

“We figured it’s the perfect role for him,” Drost said. “Assistant Coach Greg Snyder and I could hammer out the details of our game plans and Cooker could mentor the kids and share his wisdom with them. They all know and respect him – he’s a Mira Costa legend.”

Team Captain Ben Coordt dedicated the win to his dad Brett played on a Mira Costa team that lost in the finals in 1989. Photo by Ray Vidal

Team captain Ben Coordt, the outside hitter who had several key kill shots Friday night, said Cook’s return provided an emotional lift for the team because most of them had worked with him previously.

“Having him come back and work with us in the gym was a real thrill,” Coordt said. “Just his presence and his knowledge gave us a big advantage with strategy and tactics.”                         

Clearly, it worked. Costa, after splitting its season series with Newport Harbor, was able to beat them when it mattered most by a score – 25-14, 23-25, 25-13 and 25-21 — that wasn’t nearly as close as you might expect of two teams that appeared evenly matched coming into the championship game.

And there was another hidden factor working in Costa’s favor: two of its most important players — Coordt and all-around glue guy Kyle Johnson – have fathers who played for Mira Costa back in the day. Brett Coordt was in the Mira Costa class of 1989 and Brad Johnson in the class of 1984.

“That was the best part of winning this title,” Coordt said. “My father was on a team that lost a CIF Final. So after this game I gave him a big hug and told him we won it for him. He wanted this victory as much as I did.”  

Austin Stuard. Photo by Ray Vidal

For the seniors like Coordt, Friday night’s win was especially satisfying for another reason: they were members of the 2019 Mustang team that lost to Newport Harbor in that year’s CIF title game.

“We lost in four sets that year,” Drost said. “It was one of four times they beat us that year. Newport Harbor had a truly incredible team. They were undefeated.”

Although they tried not to let outside factors distract them as they prepared for Friday night’s game, Coordt said the memory of the 2019 title game loss stuck with him.

“Ever since then, it’s been a dream of mine to win CIF,” he said. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. A dream come true.”

Garret Carver. Photo by Ray Vidal

Last year, the Mustangs seemed to be on the road to revenge and redemption for the 2019 title game loss. They surged to a 10-0 record and were looking like the best team in the state until the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly shut down all prep sports for a year.

This year Drost, a 34-year-old AVP tour player who is teaming up with local, two time Olympian (2008, 2012) Sean Rosenthal this summer, started practice for his team back in February.

“We mostly worked on physical conditioning, but it was tough because for a long time it looked like there wasn’t going to be a volleyball season,” he said. “That all changed in mid-March.”

Jim Garrison. Photo by Ray Vidal

By the time they made it to the CIF title game two and a half months later, Drost and his assistant, Greg Snyder, had had a week to prepare. They knew exactly what their team needed to do to win.

“There are two things that Newport Harbor does great: their outside hitters attack the block, and they serve very tough,” Drost said. “When they beat Loyola they brought tons of tough serves.”

The Mustang game plan’s focus was on utilizing their size, especially up front, and smart passing.

“We had a big size advantage, so we had to focus on that and also pass well,” he said. “Ben Coordt and Garret Carver passed really, really well in this game.” 

The Mustangs were relentless in sticking to the game plan.

Mason Johnson. Photo by Ray Vidal

“The middle is where we had the best matchup advantage with our size, so it was important to run the middle,” he said. “Jim Garrison was elite, and Brennan Morgan had some of the most important, timely kills for us. We don’t win this game without Jim and Brennan. Jim was really incredible.”

As they began to look forward to Thursday night’s state semifinal game, the Mustangs got some good news: as the top seed, they will play the winner of the quarterfinal match between Sage Creek and Newport Harbor.

Proud principal Ben Dale. Photo by Ray Vidal

It could very well be yet another chance to avenge that 2019 loss that still stings so badly.

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Written by: Paul Teetor

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