CORONA DEL MAR — The championship that really matters is the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title, and that won't be decided for seven more months.
If there are any girls' water polo teams that know that, it's Back Bay rivals Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar. After all, they have contested each of the last two Division 1 finals, winning one title each.
But summer tournaments offer a chance for team-building and growth. And, to that end, both local teams could at least say they ended the California State High School Championships on a winning note.
The Sailors defeated San Marcos, 9-3, on Sunday at CdM in the third-place match after falling to Laguna Beach, 9-7, in a semifinal match. CdM finished seventh in the tournament after beating Mater Dei, 7-5, in the seventh-place match.
Top-seeded Foothill beat Laguna, 7-5, to win the girls' tournament title. Harvard-Westlake upset top-seeded Mater Dei, 9-7, to win the boys' title.
For Newport Harbor, which was seeded third, just beating San Marcos felt good. Rachel Whitelegge, who will be a junior for the Sailors, said Newport lost to San Marcos last weekend at the Santa Barbara summer Tournament of Champions.
"I think we really started to come together this tournament," said Whitelegge, who had two goals and two steals in the third-place match. "Over the past couple of games, we've been able to be more fluid with our passing, come together and be aware of what we need to do more. We lost to this team last weekend in Santa Barbara, so I feel like this is a really great way to end the tournament."
Sydney Kohlenberger and Ellie Reid also scored twice each for the Sailors, with Christina O'Beck, Chanel Schilling and Kate Pipkin adding a goal each. Pipkin and Whitelegge each tallied two steals.
Cleo Harrington (five saves) and Carlee Kapana (eight) combined to anchor the defense in goal. Harrington blocked a penalty shot in the first half.
The Sailors, who return three starters (Harrington, O'Beck and Whitelegge) from last year's Division 1 finalist, also have several key contributors from last year's standout junior varsity team. Those include Schilling, a center who also drew three exclusions and had a field block against San Marcos.
"At the beginning, it was sort of new, because they had been together for a year and we were separate," Whitelegge said. "Now we're really becoming fluid with everything. We get who can shoot, who can guard, who can set, where we need to pass it."
Pipkin had a team-high two goals in the semifinal loss to the Breakers. Laguna led for most of the match, but Newport Harbor tied the score at 6-6 early in the fourth quarter on Pipkin's goal assisted by a cross pass from Reid. But Laguna scored the next two goals, taking an 8-6 lead with 2:45 left on a lob goal by Haley Evans.
The Breakers were playing without standout incoming junior Makenzie Fischer, who was in Northern California playing in the U.S. Open of Water Polo. But they still held off the Sailors, even after Schilling brought Newport within a goal with 1:20 left.
Laguna freshman Bella Baldridge (two goals and four steals) scored the final goal, spinning around her defender and finding the back of the net in the final minute.
CdM, the defending tournament champion, will have a young team next year. But first-year Coach Ross Sinclair said he's happy with the Sea Kings' development. Before beating Mater Dei, they were edged by Los Alamitos, 7-6, in a seventh-place semifinal.
"We finally played the right way and what we're capable of doing," Sinclair said. "It's great. We made a goal that we wanted to be in the top eight and make sure we had competitive games all the way through, and we did. At this point, it's just good to get games and play against teams we haven't played. It was our first time playing Los Al, which is nice. It's a good, competitive tournament, a good little run-up for [Junior Olympics] in a couple of weeks. "
Marina Coskinas, who will be a senior center, led the way against Mater Dei with three goals. Sophomore-to-be Maddie Musselman had two goals, four steals and a pair of field blocks. Bridget Storm and Annie Mortimer also scored one goal each, and Heidi Ritner racked up 12 saves.