Water polo holiday begins

Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo coach Bill Barnett called the annual Holiday Cup “a testing ground to see where we’re at.”

Corona del Mar Coach Aaron Chaney, with his young team this season, wouldn’t argue that.

“I guess you could say these girls haven’t been battle-tested,” Chaney said. “They’re getting it right now.”

Both teams definitely hope to be ready to go when the 16-team tournament, split into two groups of eight, begins today at Newport Harbor and CdM.

The Sailors (5-0) are the No. 1 seed in their group. They play host to No. 8-seeded Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) today at 8:30 a.m. A win, and the Tars would face either No. 4-seeded Santa Barbara or No. 5 Rosary in the quarterfinals today at 1:55 p.m., also at Newport Harbor High.

The top two teams from each group comprise the semifinalists.

Newport Harbor has made it to the tournament title game each of the last three years, winning it in 2004 and 2005 before losing last year’s to CdM. Other teams in the Tars’ group are No. 2 Dos Pueblos, No. 3 Palos Verdes, No. 6 Huntington Beach and No. 7 Carlsbad.

Dos Pueblos would be a potential semifinal matchup Saturday, and Barnett wanted the team in Newport’s group because the Sailors have no nonleague games scheduled against the Chargers.

“I’ve seen them play on tape and I thought they were very formidable,” Barnett said. “They’ve got a really solid team ... Really, it’s a very balanced tournament. I’d say anybody, at this point, can win.”

Junior Nicolina McCall has scored a team-high nine goals for the Sailors’ balanced attack, which also includes six goals from sophomore Kate Klippert and five from senior Mimi Bury and sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist.

Defending tournament champion CdM (3-3), meanwhile, is seeded third in its group behind Foothill and Long Beach Wilson. The Sea Kings begin their tournament today at 11:45 a.m. against Poway at CdM. A win, and the Sea Kings would play Wilson or Beckman at 4:05 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Other teams in CdM’s group include Edison, Santa Margarita and Tustin.

If the Sea Kings play Long Beach Wilson, it’d be a rematch Chaney said he would like. Long Beach Wilson beat CdM, 7-6, in a nonleague game on Dec. 4.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Chaney said. “We’ve been losing games by a goal here and a goal there. We just have to eliminate some pretty careless mistakes we make.”

Junior Heather Van Hiel, the team’s only returning starter from a year ago, leads CdM in scoring with 10 goals. Other key contributors include juniors Victoria Kennedy (eight goals) and Elise Molnar (seven goals).

The semifinals are Saturday at 10:40 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., at Newport Harbor. The championship game is Saturday at 4:05 p.m. at Newport Harbor.

MATT SZABO may be reached at (714) 966-4614 or by e-mail at matthew.szabo@latimes.com.

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