IRVINE — Quarterfinals, semifinals, third-place match, championship match. It doesn't really matter.
The last two seasons, the Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor High girls' water polo teams have always found a way to meet up in a tournament.
"We can't avoid Newport," CdM senior Cassidy Papa said. "It just goes back and forth. It's fun."
The Sea Kings and Sailors now have played nine times in that two-season span. Their latest encounter was Saturday, in the third-place match of the Irvine Southern California Championships.
Papa helped make sure that it was her team that finished the tournament with a win.
The Stanford-bound co-captain had five goals, two assists and three steals as CdM rallied for a 9-7 victory at Woollett Aquatics Center to claim the bronze over the Sailors. It is the best tournament finish of the season for Corona del Mar (20-4).
"We're finally proving that we can play as a team," Papa said. "Everyone was kind of doubting it and saying that we were a team of individuals for a while there. We're finally becoming cohesive, and right before CIF that's what we're looking to do."
Each Back Bay team suffered semifinal losses earlier Saturday. The Sea Kings fell to top-seeded Foothill, 6-5, and the Sailors lost to Santa Barbara for the third time this season, 5-3.
Santa Barbara went on to capture the tournament title over Foothill, 5-4. The Dons, who have won 15 matches in a row, more than likely clinched the top seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs with the win.
CdM, which was ranked No. 4 in Division 1 coming into the tournament, could now earn the No. 3 seed. The Sea Kings are 2-2 against Newport Harbor this season. Papa and senior Ioanna Haralabidis were all-tournament team selections from CdM, and senior co-captains Carly Christian and Elissia Schilling earned all-tournament team status for Newport Harbor.
CdM took a 5-3 halftime lead in the third-place match after Papa scored on a counterattack, then from outside five meters off a foul. Ioanna Haralabidis, who has been emerging as a center defender, had picked up two exclusions in the first half guarding Schilling. But CdM sophomore Eliza Britt came in and played effective defense late in the half, causing a turnover.
"We were screaming at her to push and push, and she was working really hard," Haralabidis said. "I'm really proud of her."
Newport Harbor (19-6) scored four goals in the third quarter to take a 7-6 lead. Christian had two goals, while sophomore Rachel Whitelegge and junior Heidi Fults also scored.
But the Sea Kings owned the fourth quarter, posting a 3-0 advantage. Papa tied the score on a lob from six meters, then gave CdM an 8-7 lead on a skip shot from the left off Maddie Musselman's pass. Papa then provided the assist to Stephania Haralabidis, who found the back of the net cross-cage with 1:02 left in the game.
Papa, who did not score in CdM's quarterfinal win over Los Alamitos or the semifinal loss to Foothill, admitted that she had been in a little slump. She broke out of it big-time against Newport Harbor.
"I mean, I'm glad to [get] the assists, [play] the defense, but it started to get frustrating," Papa said. "I felt like I needed to put some shots away. Once I got the first one in this game, I finally got a little bit of my confidence back. It was nice to get that game under my belt."
Senior co-captain Erica Weed added eight saves in goal, while her twin sister Genevieve and Ally McCormick also scored for CdM. Stephania Haralabidis had a goal and four steals.
CdM Coach Sam Bailey said he considered it a successful tournament for his squad.
"It's always nice to finish the day on a win," Bailey said. "And the second piece of it is, it's CdM against Newport. The rivalry that the two schools have is really, really fun."
Christian led Newport Harbor with three goals, and sophomore Rachel Whitelegge had a standout game with two goals and four steals. Schilling drew four exclusions and junior goalie Cleo Harrington made 12 saves for the Sailors, but Coach Bill Barnett was not impressed with his team's effort.
He said the Sailors lacked energy after having their winter formal dance Friday night at Knott's Berry Farm. The dance was originally scheduled for Saturday night.
"They played tired, let's put it that way," Barnett said. "They didn't play well and they looked tired. There was nothing I could do about [the dance being moved]. I don't think it's right from my standpoint to tell teenage girls that you can't go to a dance. That's part of high school ... you always want teenagers to try to make the correct decisions on their own."
Newport Harbor will have to bounce back, as it plays host to Los Alamitos on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. for the Sunset League title. Los Alamitos finished fifth at the Southern California Championships.
Wednesday's match also has Division 1 seeding implications. If the Griffins win, then Newport Harbor could drop all the way to No. 6, which would set up a possible quarterfinal match against CdM.
If Newport wins Wednesday, Barnett expects his team to be seeded fourth in CIF, potentially playing Laguna Beach in the quarterfinals.
"I thought it was poor effort in both games [Saturday]," Barnett said. "We'll be well-rested and ready to go [for Wednesday]."
McCormick led CdM with two goals in the semifinal against Foothill, which won despite playing without standout sophomore Cana Manzella (sick). The Sea Kings were down by two goals in the fourth quarter before Erica Weed, the goalie, scored full-tank. Foothill scored a six-on-five to push its lead back to 6-4, but McCormick drew an exclusion then scored a power-play goal with 54 seconds left.
The Sea Kings got the ball back with 33 seconds left, but Ioanna Haralabidis' shot was field blocked by Foothill senior Ashley Zwirner. USC-bound Knights senior Nikki Stansfield had three goals and drew three exclusions in the match.
Newport Harbor, which was held to a season-low three goals, never led its semifinal against Santa Barbara. The Sailors pulled within a goal at 4-3, when Whitelegge scored cross-cage with 4:43 left in the game. But Santa Barbara senior Kelsey O'Brien added an insurance goal for the Dons, scoring in transition with 1:28 left.
Whitelegge scored twice for the Sailors, and Schilling (four steals) added the other goal. Harrington made 12 saves. Senior Rocio Fesembeck led Santa Barbara with three goals.
Cal-bound Santa Barbara goalie Maddie Trabucco, who was the MVP of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, was named the Most Outstanding Goalie of the Irvine tournament. She helped lead Santa Barbara to its fourth Southern California Championships title, and first since 2004.
Stansfield earned Most Outstanding Field Player honors.