COSTA MESA -- The Orange Coast College men's volleyball team will take on Santa Monica City College in the second of two state semifinal matchups at the 2017 California Community College Men's Volleyball State Championships, hosted by L.A. Pierce College, on Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.
The top-seeded Pirates (19-1), winners of 18 straight and seeded No. 1 in the playoffs, will take on a fourth-seeded Corsairs squad fresh off of a five-set win over host L.A. Pierce on Friday night.
Coast rolled past No. 8 Grossmont in four sets on Friday and the winner of Thursday's semifinal matchup will face the winner between No. 3 Long Beach City (16-3) and No. 7 El Camino (11-7) on Saturday at LAPC, beginning at 7 p.m.
This is the second meeting of the year between the Pirates and Corsairs (14-5), with SMCC handing OCC its only loss of the season back on Feb. 4, but according to head coach Travis Turner, Thursday's matchup will be a much different situation than from the second match of the season.
"Both teams have improved a ton since the Feb. 4 match," Turner said. "For us, we are controlling the ball better and our serving has improved a lot since then."
In addition to the passing and the serving, the one constant that's been on the side of the Pirates is their ability to put points away and Coast has no better 1-2 punch than sophomore outside hitters Jordan Hoppe and Justin Kam.
Hoppe, the 2017 OCC Male Athlete of the Year and Orange Empire Conference MVP, has a team-best 227 kills to go along with 117 digs, 27 aces and 33 blocks. After having a secondary role with Coast as a freshman, the Greendale, Wisconsin native has been the leader of the Pirates since Day 1 this year.
Kam, a transfer from Cal Lutheran University, has immediately stepped into Turner's program and performed well, ripping 217 kills to go along with 96 digs and 40 total blocks, earning first-team, All-OEC honors along the way.
Sophomore opposite Matt Ujkic has been a steady third offensive selection with 126 kills to go along with 53 digs and 37 blocks.
Middle blockers Austin Marriott (52 kills, 49 blocks) and Bradley Hankus (73 kills, 66 blocks) added to the offensive depth and provide a presence in the middle, while setters Colby Elder (454 assists) and Jacob Gilliam (279 assists) have both come in and learned the OCC system flawlessly in their first season with the program.
Throw in key pieces to the Pirate puzzle, including libero Chase Moothart (53 digs, 27 aces), libero Cole Aidnik (88 digs) and 6-foot-9 MB Chris Orem (46 kills, .444 hitting percentage, 42 blocks) and the Pirates have the team that can play against the strengths of any team.
"The key for us on Thursday is going to be serving," Turner said. "Santa Monica is very strong in the middle and serving tough could take their middles out of the offense."
Those middle blockers that Turner is referring to include freshmen Vecas Lewis (130 kills, 60 blocks) and Andrew Dalmada (131 kills, 46 blocks) for the Corsairs, a team that is 14-5 overall and is the only team in the state that knows what it takes to defeat the Pirates this season.
"Both middles concern me," Turner said. "Santa Monica is also very well coached, so this one should be a battle, for sure."
Depth of the Corsairs is also going to be a factor, thanks to five players with over 100 kills, including team leader Dane Pieper (181), Shane Stoklos (110) and Max Ball (104).
Live streaming for the match on Thursday can be found by clicking HERE.