Once the fourth quarter started, Alex Musselman was under fire from all directions.
Musselman had "only" six saves entering that fourth quarter in a CIF Southern Section Division I semifinal match against Foothill on Feb. 23.
The Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team eventually lost in overtime, 10-9, ending its season, but certainly not because of the play of its junior goalie. She turned into a wall, saving 12 shots over the final 13 minutes — including a penalty shot — to finish with a season-high 18 saves.
"We were running out of time," Musselman said. "I felt the pressure of having to step up, and I feel like I play really good under pressure."
Musselman was racking up saves faster than New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Foothill Coach Jeff Colton followed baseball protocol by tipping his cap after the match, calling Musselman the best goalie in high school girls' water polo.
More people would say the same thing after watching Musselman's semifinal performance, and CdM Coach Sam Bailey won't argue. He's just happy he gets Musselman, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, for another year.
Bailey said goalie is the most important position on the team. He consistently saw Musselman, the Pacific Coast League's Most Outstanding Goalie, rise to the occasion this season.
"As a goalie, it can be really daunting because you're the last line of defense," Bailey said. "Having a goalie back there your team can count on and rely upon is critical. Alex does a great job of being able to focus and play her game, all the way through."
Musselman grew up fast in the CdM junior polo program, coached by Matt McCormick, after starting the sport when she was 12. She had played soccer and volleyball in middle school, but decided to stick to water polo. She's always been a swimmer in the Newport Hills summer program.
She grew up fast height-wise as well, to her current height of 6-foot even. Even better for a goalie, she has long arms.
On the CdM counterattack, Musselman uses those arms to fling the ball down the pool for easy goals by players like McCormick's daughter, Ally, or fellow sophomore Cassidy Papa. Musselman is widely considered one of the better passing goalies in high school as well.
Just don't ask her why.
"I've always been able to throw it really far," she said. "I don't know why. My dad was a pitcher, so that could be why. He always taught me how to throw the ball with good form. I like doing it; I like passing."
Jeff Musselman pitched in Major League Baseball from 1986-1990, with the Blue Jays and Mets. He's now a vice president for the Newport Beach-based Boras Corporation, run by pro sports agent Scott Boras. Boras was Musselman's agent when he played, and he asked Musselman to work for him after he retired from baseball.
It's an athletic family as the mom, Karen, played soccer at Rutgers. The three daughters don't need agents yet, although all play sports.
Maddie, a seventh grader at CdM, was a club soccer standout and is now also an up-and-coming water polo player. Alex said Maddie is on the USA Water Polo Cadet training team. Ella, 9, is the youngest Musselman and also swims.
Alex has been on the youth national team for the past two years, along with Papa and Pippa Saunders. In high school, she credits former coach Aaron Chaney for helping her through last year, when she was the starting goalie as a sophomore.
"I struggled at first because it's like a leadership role," Musselman said. "Being a goalie, you have to be a leader, and I was so young. Chaney really helped me become the player I am. He showed me how important being goalie was."
Proof is on the pool deck. The last girls' goalie to start at CdM as a sophomore was current CdM assistant coach Brittany Fullen, who went on to win four national titles at UCLA, two of them as starting goalie.
Musselman said Fullen has helped her a lot with coaching, like instructing her not to come out of the cage while playing five-on-six defense. Still, some of the things Musselman does are just natural ability.
"You can't really coach somebody to pass like that," Fullen said. "You can try, but there's not even that many college goalies I've seen that can pass like that. It complements our counterattack, because our girls are quick."
Fullen and Musselman are part of a dynamite CdM girls' goalie history that also includes players like former USC goalie Tumua Anae and current Stanford stud Kate Baldoni. Anae was the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year last year for the national champion Trojans, and Baldoni's Cardinal are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation as well.
"When you have that to play up to, it makes you just work harder," Musselman said.
Now that, she can do. She's in three Advanced Placement classes as a junior and has a 3.44 grade-point average. In the pool, though, Musselman can't wait until next year.
"I already want to go back to water polo season," Musselman said with a trademark big smile. "I love swim season, but I already miss water polo."
Born: May 1, 1994
Hometown: Newport Beach
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Sam Bailey
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: "Finding Nemo"
Favorite athletic moment: "Probably when we beat Santa Barbara in the [CIF Southern Section Division I] quarterfinals, because we lost to them really bad in the beginning of the year. We proved ourselves, and we all played really well."
Week in review: Musselman matched a season-high with 18 saves as the Sea Kings were edged by Foothill, 10-9, in overtime in a CIF Southern Section Division I semifinal match.