Sailors, Sea Kings head to Santa Barbara tournament

Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo coach Bill Barnett knows it’s the Southern California Invitational later this month that holds the most weight for CIF seedings.

In terms of a purely strong field, however, the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions can’t be beat.

“Overall, it’s probably the strongest tournament in Southern California,” Barnett said of the two-day tournament that also includes CdM and begins today at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos high schools. “It’s extremely competitive.”

The 16-team tournament has four groups. Newport Harbor (12-1), the top seed in Group B, has its games today at Dos Pueblos High. The Sailors will play El Toro at 3:45 p.m. in their first-round game. A win, and Harbor advances to a quarterfinal meeting with either Coronado or Villa Park at 7:25 p.m.

The Sailors already beat Coronado, a San Diego Section powerhouse, 6-5, in their opening game of the season on Dec. 8. They are trying to make it back to the championship game of the TOC, in which the Sailors fell to Foothill, 4-1, a season ago.

Newport Harbor, which is paced in scoring by junior Nicolina McCall (24 goals) and Stanford-bound senior Mimi Bury (19), has never won the Tournament of Champions. The Sailors have finished in second place four of the past five years.

Corona del Mar (7-5), seeded second in Group D, opens with Montebello today at 1:55 p.m. at Santa Barbara High. It’s a rematch of last year’s CIF Southern Section Division I semifinal that the Oilers won, 8-7. The two teams also played in last year’s TOC, with Coach Aaron Chaney’s squad winning the third-place game.

Should the Sea Kings defeat Montebello, they would play either Laguna Beach or Santa Barbara in a quarterfinal today at 5:35 p.m., also at Santa Barbara High.

CdM, led in scoring by juniors Heather Van Hiel (20 goals) and Victoria Kennedy (17), was the tournament champion in 2006.

Group A includes top overall seed Dos Pueblos, which won the Holiday Cup on Dec. 29 and handed Newport Harbor its only loss of the season in that tournament’s semifinals. Other teams in the group include Los Alamitos, Whittier and Santa Margarita.

Group C is headed by defending CIF Southern Section Division I and TOC champion Foothill. The group also includes Long Beach Wilson, Ayala and Agoura.

Games between the eight quarterfinal teams are scheduled for Saturday at Dos Pueblos High. The semifinals are scheduled for 11:10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., with the championship game at 4:35 p.m.

— Matt Szabo

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