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Newport Harbor starts new playoffs streak
Rocky Ciarelli returned to high school coaching this season at Newport Harbor and took over a team with a lot of young faces.
The Sailors, who missed the playoffs last season, ending a streak of 28 consecutive postseason trips, had a roster with just two seniors, Collin Schlesinger and Grady Kimme, and two juniors, Joe Janssen and Carson Poivre.
The team’s other eight players are freshmen or sophomores.
“I’ve coached a long time,” said Ciarelli, the longtime coach at Huntington Beach before departing in 2008. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a freshman on varsity in my 27 years. I know I had one on girls.
“To have four freshman (playing) and eight underclassmen, that’s a lot.”
The youthful Sailors were able to grow up fast this season, finishing tied for second in the Sunset League with a 7-3 mark and earning a spot in the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs.
The Sailors lost the tiebreaker with Los Alamitos and enters the playoffs as the third-place team from their league. The Sailors will face fourth-seeded Newbury Park in a first-round match Tuesday night.
The CIF-SS playoff pairings were released Friday. Wild-card round matches are Saturday, and first-round matches are Tuesday.
A turning point for the Sailors, according to Ciarelli, was a resounding loss to Huntington Beach on April 3. The scores were 25-11, 25-15, 25-8.
“It didn’t look like we had a chance,” Ciarelli said. “After that, we talked and the kids realized we had to give more effort no matter what grade you’re in.”
The Sailors responded by winning six of their final seven matches and finished the regular season with a 12-12 record.
“I think they’ve all improved,” Ciarelli said. “All year long, we’ve done a good job. I think 10 of our 12 losses are to the top four teams in CIF. We were able to beat the teams we should have beat. The Los Alamitos win was a good win and we’ve been competitive with some teams.
“We didn’t talk about last year. Our goal was to get into CIF (playoffs). Before league started, our goal was to go 7-3, so we’ve reached our goals as far as that’s concerned.”
Huntington Beach, winners of two consecutive CIF-SS titles, is the top seed in Division 1 and opens with a first-round home game against Esperanza, an at-large team from the Crestview League.
The Oilers have won a CIF-SS-record 96 consecutive matches.
Corona del Mar is the third seed in Division 1 and in the bottom half of the bracket away from Huntington Beach. CdM opens the playoffs by hosting Trabuco Hills, an at-large team from the South Coast League.
The Trinity League has five teams in the 32-team Division 1 bracket. Servite, Mater Dei and Santa Margarita earned automatic berths. JSerra and St. John Bosco received at-large bids.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Servite coach Matt Marrujo said. “I think they both (JSerra and St. John Bosco) deserved it. I think 1 though 6, this was a tough league.”
Laguna Beach is seeded fourth in Division 2.
Saddleback Valley Christian is the top seed in Division 4. The Warriors have won consecutive titles in Division 5. SVC will be home for the first round against the winner of the wild-card match between Norwalk and Whitney.
St. Margaret’s is the third seed in Division 4.