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Corona del Mar boys’ water polo routs La Serna to open CIF Division 2 playoffs

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Corona del Mar’s Tanner Pulice shoots against La Serna’s Nolan Rapp in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs on Wednesday at Whittier College.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

The Corona del Mar High boys’ water polo team is not among the top four seeds in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, but that doesn’t mean that the Sea Kings lack confidence.

CdM advanced to the Division 2 final in 2017 and the semifinals last year, and it looks to go on another extended run in 2019.

The Sea Kings looked good defensively Wednesday as they began their journey.

CdM routed Whittier La Serna 14-7 in the first round at Whittier College. Senior attacker Tyler Harvey scored five goals.

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The match was not as close as the score would suggest, as the Sea Kings (19-10) held a dominating 10-2 advantage headed into the fourth quarter before emptying their bench. Senior goalkeeper Harrison Smith made 14 saves before he was subbed out early in the fourth for another senior goalkeeper, Luca O’Brien, who made two saves.

CdM coach Kareem Captan was frustrated at specific offensive possessions, especially in the first half, but he couldn’t complain about moving on.

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Corona del Mar’s Tyler Harvey rises to shoot and score against La Serna in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs on Wednesday at Whittier College.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

“Overall, until the fourth quarter, we were doing our job defensively,” Captan said. “As far as offense is concerned, we’ll get there. We scored 14 goals. I wasn’t worried about our offense; I was more focused on our defense. Moving forward, our defense has to be solid ... We really want to focus in on starting the quarters and finishing the quarters strong defensively. They only scored two goals in three quarters, so that kind of speaks for itself. That’s the kind of statement we want to make defensively.”

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CdM will host the winner of Thursday evening’s game between No. 4-seeded Foothill and Goleta Dos Pueblos on Saturday, at a time to be determined. The Sea Kings have a history with the Knights, who have knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last two years.

CdM has not beaten two-time defending Division 2 champion Foothill since 2016.

“Over the past two or three years, seeing the older guys lose to them consistently, I think it’s a new rivalry for sure,” Harvey said. “I think that would definitely be one of the biggest games of our CIF run. If we can beat them, that would give us a lot of momentum.”

The Sea Kings, who got an at-large berth into the playoffs as the third-place team from the Surf League, used a balanced attack against Del Rio League champion La Serna (13-15). Senior center Haig Mavusi and junior attacker Eamon Hennessey each scored twice. Seniors Brennen Gaut, Tanner Pulice, Gavin Reed and Aden Mina, as well as junior Kyle Jolas, all scored one goal each. Mina led the way with five assists.

Senior Aaron Ayala led La Serna with three goals. It was Ayala who scored the hosts’ first goal, but not before the Sea Kings had opened up a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.

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Corona del Mar goalkeeper Harrison Smith stops a La Serna shot in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs on Wednesday at Whittier College.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

“We definitely planned on coming out strong,” Smith said. “That’s our main goal, to come out strong in every game we’re playing. If we come out strong and keep putting on the pressure, then we can win any game.

“We just had a few defensive breakdowns and kind of got sloppy toward the end. But I think it’s good that we found that mistake now early in the playoff run rather than later, because it could really harm us later on against bigger teams. It’s OK that we’re making mistakes, but we’ve got to realize what we did wrong, learn from it and move on.”

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The Sea Kings have lost their last five meetings with Foothill overall, but Captan said his team will be ready to go.

“I’m always excited about that matchup,” he said. “We haven’t beat them yet, and we have to. It’s a good challenge for us moving forward. If we want to win CIF, we have to beat a team we’ve never beat before. I think we want that kind of challenge. We want to be tested. We want a difficult task, because winning a championship is not easy. These guys are up for the challenge, 100%.”

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