Even before Justin Papa was hired as the Corona del Mar High girls’ water polo coach in May, he knew who he wanted on his coaching staff.
Her last name was Papa, too.
It was his younger sister Cassidy, who was finishing out her senior year at Stanford University. After she helped the Cardinal win the NCAA championship, she graduated with a degree in human biology. And when Justin got the job, she agreed to team up with her brother.
“This program gave me everything,” Cassidy Papa said. “If I can give that to these girls on this team, I can’t say no to that. I mean, a lot of these girls I babysat when they were young. So many familiar faces.”
Justin is indeed the first-year head coach at his alma mater. Cassidy, who said she is currently applying to graduate schools for physical therapy, is his assistant. The youngest Papa sibling is also in the program, as Shane just finished up his junior season for the CdM boys’ water polo team.
The presence of Cassidy means a lot. As a senior at CdM in 2013, she helped the Sea Kings claim the program’s only CIF Southern Section Division 1 title, earning Division 1 Player of the Year and Daily Pilot Dream Team co-Player of the Year honors.
“She’s so young that I think she understands how us as young women work,” CdM senior goalie Erin Tharp said. “She can find a way to connect with us and coach us in a different way than Justin … She’s not that much older than us and she won a CIF championship. It really just reiterates to us that it’s a possibility for us. It happened, so it can happen again.”
The Sea Kings showed they could be in the hunt Friday night, as they earned an upset 9-6 victory at Foothill to open the season. At the start of the fourth quarter, it was Cassidy who was giving much of the instruction to the players in the team huddle.
“We balance each other very well,” she said of her relationship with her older brother. “And it’s very easy, because we get to talk about our team all the time at home. We’ve been best friends forever, so it’s just like coaching with my best friend.”
Justin certainly is happy to have his sister on the sidelines with him. The CdM girls’ water polo junior varsity coach this year is another alumnus, Ty Hack. Like Justin Papa, Hack played in college at UC Irvine.
It’s certainly all in the family for the Papas, who are happy to give back to the program that helped build them as water polo players.