In water polo circles, the best team in the Southern Section usually is considered the nation's finest, and the winner of tonight's Division I championship match between El Toro and Corona del Mar will be worthy of such lofty status.
Top-seeded El Toro (27-2) and second-seeded Corona del Mar (26-3) have each been ranked No. 1 or 2 in the section and Orange County all season. Their meeting at 8:15 p.m. at Belmont Plaza will be their third this season. Corona del Mar won the first, 12-11, in the championship game of the South Coast Tournament in late September; El Toro won, 10-5, in a nonleague game at El Toro in early October.
"I don't think the 10-5 game is significant," El Toro Coach Don Stoll said. "You can't look back at a score five weeks ago and say, 'We beat them by five goals, so we should beat them by that now.'
"They've won every tournament they've been in, and this is another tournament. I think it will be an exciting game, and whichever team executes the best will win."
El Toro, which has won section titles in four of the last five seasons and has a 21-game playoff winning streak, is led by seniors Brandon Stout and Bill Pinciroli, who each have scored 86 goals.
It will be Corona del Mar's seventh appearance in the final since Coach John Vargas took over in 1983. The Sea Kings have won four titles but haven't made the final since 1989, when they won the last of three consecutive titles.
After winning the South Coast Tournament, the Sea Kings won the North Orange County and California State Invitational tournaments. With a starting lineup of six juniors and senior two-meter player Crosby Grant, the Sea Kings have improved steadily.
"I've been watching films of them from the beginning of the year until the end and there has been a big change," Vargas said.
Last season, all four division champions came from Orange County, and the county is again represented in each of the division finals. A closer look:
Division II: Second-seeded Sunny Hills (23-8) plays No. 1 Riverside Poly (27-3) at 5 p.m. Riverside Poly is led by Eliot Despins, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound two-meter player. Sunny Hills, which lost to Poly, 9-5 and 11-8, this season, is led by seniors Carlo Franzia and Seann Schiele.
Division III: Second-seeded Costa Mesa (24-7) will defend its title against top-seeded South Pasadena (27-4) at 3:30 p.m. The Mustangs are led by senior Sam Grayeli, who made the U.S. national youth team.
Division IV: Third-seeded and defending champion Los Amigos (16-11) plays No. 1 San Bernardino (26-3) at 2 p.m. San Bernardino's Ryan Williams has scored 216 goals this season, which is nine short of the Southern Section record. Los Amigos' Drew Douglas has scored 134 goals.