Heading into Wednesday's Orange Coast League opener against Saddleback, it had been 22 days since the Costa Mesa High girls' water polo team had played a game.
Coach Dustin Serrano was a bit nervous about rusty play. Those nerves could go away as the Mustangs jumped out to a big lead early.
Mesa almost scored a goal for each day of the break.
Senior Brenna Alvis and junior Kaylie Tickenoff both had season-high totals of eight and seven goals, respectively, as the Mustangs blitzed the Roadrunners, 21-5, at Costa Mesa High.
The teams have battled for the second spot in the league the last several years, behind perennial champion Laguna Beach. Last year, Costa Mesa earned second and Saddleback third.
But the Mustangs showed their strength Wednesday. Alvis added three assists, while sophomore Sofia Rice scored three goals and also had three assists. Seniors Kendra Ferguson and Lauren Kiefer, as well as junior Cialee Enslow, also scored for Mesa in the total team effort. Senior goalie Michelle Vu, back after a standout junior season when she made 287 saves to rank second in Mesa single-season annals, finished with seven saves in the rout.
"I was nervous, but I'm really confident in my team," Serrano said. "They work hard every day, they're challenging each other in practice and it's been a really fun season with these girls. Not having any games during the break was rough. It's almost like a new season, but we played solid. We had all of our girls running on all cylinders.
"They want to start a new trend that we're the first or second-best team in this league. We know how talented Laguna Beach is ... but I challenged the girls to be first in league. That's something that we want to start as a trend here, even though I know it's almost an impossible task. But you see it happen in sports every day."
The Mustangs were ahead 5-1 after the first quarter and 13-3 at halftime. Serrano also said he liked what he saw from the two freshmen on the team, Sey Currie and Taiuta Viagalelei, off the bench.
Costa Mesa (9-3, 1-0 in league) was too quick for Saddleback (10-8, 0-1), with Alvis scoring several of her goals on the counterattack. The scoring is more balanced for the Mustangs this year after last season's leading scorer, center Alessia Vitiello, transferred to Newport Harbor for academic reasons.
Rice leads the team in goals with 38, but she's followed closely by Alvis with 37 and Tickenoff with 30.
"We do miss Alessia, don't get me wrong, but I think this team has grown a lot without her," Serrano said. "We're not relying on, 'Hey, let's get the ball to her and see her score.' Now it's been, everybody has to score."
The 21 goals on Wednesday, a season-high total for Mesa, certainly stood out. But it was the defensive effort that was also impressive. The Mustangs held Saddleback sophomore Aisley Martinez, who came into the game with 107 goals scored this season, to just two. Rice and senior Karlee Kistler were the primary defenders on Martinez, who scored both of her goals on the power play, one coming after Rice was excluded.
Junior center Tylien Rodriguez also scored twice for the visitors.
"Coming into the game, we were a little nervous, but I think we had to have a winning mind set," Alvis said. "I think we did that, as a team. Everyone contributed. I think this game just sets the bar of where we want to be in league, and how we want to play every game."
Costa Mesa also wants to make a run in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs this year. The Mustangs look forward to games against Division 6 foes, including Thursday's nonleague contest against Garden Grove, which is ranked No. 8 in the division.
Mesa opens the Segerstrom tournament next week against Cerritos, which is another Division 6 foe.
"I think it's a really good opportunity for us," Tickenoff said. "We're going to be playing a lot of games with people that are in our CIF division. It's definitely going to help us out, getting a look at what teams we could possibly play to go to the next round."