IRVINE — Every tournament, Corona del Mar High girls' water polo sophomore goalie Heidi Ritner seems to get better and better.
There are some other, more well-publicized goalies out there in CIF this year, including two across the Back Bay. But that's fine with CdM Coach Ross Sinclair.
"She's right in the mix with them," Sinclair said. "We're happy to have her."
The girls across the bay aren't going to argue that point, either.
"I think it's kind of a bummer that she's almost flying under the radar," Newport Harbor senior Christina O'Beck said. "I think she's one of the top goalies in CIF, hands down ... She just seems to keep getting better each game, too. We already noticed a difference between today and when we played them in Santa Barbara."
Ritner shined in the Sea Kings' third meeting of the year with rival Newport Harbor, on Saturday afternoon in the third-place match of the Irvine Southern California Championships. This one might have been the most important yet.
Ritner, an all-tournament team selection, made six saves and anchored a strong CdM defense as the Sea Kings won, 5-4, at Woollett Aquatics Center. With a week left in the regular season, the victory could be a precursor to CdM moving up a spot to No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll. Newport Harbor could get bumped down two spots to No. 4 when the new poll is released Monday.
Why is that important? Because nobody wants to be on the same side of the draw as top-ranked Laguna Beach, which won the tournament title over Foothill, 10-3.
"I guess third," Sinclair said when asked where he would rank his team in Division 1. "You never know ... I would say third. I guess that seems like a fair statement. It's tough."
CdM sophomore Maddie Musselman joined Ritner as the Sea Kings' two all-tournament team selections. Newport Harbor goalies Cleo Harrington and Carlee Kapana shared tournament Most Outstanding Goalie honors, while O'Beck and senior Heidi Fults also were on the all-tournament team.
CdM (20-4) has been consistent, if nothing else. The Sea Kings finished third in all three regular-season tournaments this season. The effort was there from the beginning in the third-place match against the Sailors (19-6), the rubber match as the teams split their two earlier meetings.
The Sea Kings showed they could bounce back from a tough 7-1 semifinal loss to Laguna earlier Saturday. Junior Eliza Britt scored from up top on CdM's first possession, and senior center Marina Coskinas added a backhand goal from center.
O'Beck responded for the Sailors with a goal from six meters out, but then CdM senior Annie Mortimer skipped in an outside shot that gave the Sea Kings a 3-1 advantage after a quarter.
Musselman and junior Grace Morgan also scored in the game, making five goals from five different CdM players.
"That's what it's going to take for us to beat these top teams," Sinclair said. "Every girl on the other top four [teams] has a girl that can contain and match Maddie. Makenzie [Fischer of Laguna Beach] is a great defender. Newport's got a couple of girls on the perimeter. They're very aware, and they have great goalies that counter Maddie's shooting. We made that extra pass [today], which was great."
Musselman's power-play strike from the left, on a pass by Britt, gave CdM a 5-2 lead with three minutes left in the game. Sinclair pumped his fist on the sideline, knowing victory was coming.
Newport Harbor added a perimeter strike from Rachel Whitelegge, and another goal from Isabel Leveque with two seconds left. But CdM was able to hold on.
Each CdM goal came with an assist, as Britt, Coskinas, Bobbi Hoose, Mortimer and Musselman each tallied one helper. And the Sea Kings held Newport scoreless in four power-play opportunities, while Morgan and Musselman each had field blocks.
"We've had a lot more communication," Ritner said. "We've also gotten a lot better at shot blocking ... [We wanted to] play for our seniors, since this is their last tournament before CIF. We wanted to do as well as possible for them."
Newport Harbor lost to Foothill, 8-6, in its semifinal match. Kate Pipkin scored twice for the Sailors, and Harrington made seven saves while Kapana added four. The Sailors fell behind 7-4 in the fourth quarter before rallying, as goals from Whitelegge and Ellie Reid brought Newport within one.
But the Sailors, who had a big comeback win over Mater Dei in a tournament quarterfinal on Friday night, couldn't get closer this time. Knights junior Cana Manzella scored an insurance goal on a backhand shot from center with 1:19 left in the game.
"I think today we relied on [trying to come back] a little bit too much," O'Beck said. "We just need to come out faster, harder, quicker."
That will be true Wednesday night at 7, as the Sailors play host to Los Alamitos for the Sunset League title. The Griffins have been playing well, finishing eighth at the Southern California Championships despite missing one of their best players due to injury.
"I'm trying not to think of the seedings," O'Beck said. "We have a huge game on Wednesday, and we have to win that first just to get a good seed in the top four ... but I mean, it's no secret that we don't want to play Laguna in the semifinals.
"I don't think we should drop two spots [in Division 1]. I think we should drop from No. 2 to 3, but I don't think we should drop to fourth. I mean, it's one tournament. I think dropping one spot is enough, but I have no control over that."
Makenzie Fischer earned the tournament Outstanding Field Player award for Laguna Beach, which won the Irvine Southern California Championships for the first time in program history. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Breakers sophomore goalie Holly Parker and senior Cara Borkovec.
Laguna Beach (24-1) is only the third team to ever sweep the three major tournaments — the Holiday Cup, Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions and Irvine Southern California Championships — in the same season. The other three teams to accomplish the feat, Foothill in 2003 and Dos Pueblos in 2010 and '11, all went on to win the Division 1 title.