Water polo is a team sport, but the addition of one player also can make a big difference.
Even as a 14-year-old, Kira Anderson has already shown that she will be one of the best players to come through the Costa Mesa High girls’ water polo program.
The freshman has scored 115 goals this season, which ranks her second in the Mustangs’ all-time single season annals. Only Sarah Bowman, who scored 121 goals in 2005, has more.
Anderson has one more match to reach that total. Top-seeded Costa Mesa (24-6) plays No. 2 Whittier California (23-8) for the CIF Southern Section Division 5 title on Saturday at 6:50 p.m. at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.
The Mustangs are one of three local teams playing for section titles on Saturday in Irvine. Top-seeded Laguna Beach (29-1) plays No. 2 Foothill (24-4) in the Division 1 final at 5:30 p.m., while No. 3 Marina (20-11) faces La Cañada Flintridge Prep (17-9) for the Division 6 crown at 9:30 a.m.
Setting the individual record would be meaningful to Anderson, but helping Costa Mesa earn the first CIF championship in program history ultimately would mean more.
“Those moments are just way more important,” she said. “It would be so fun, and I think that everybody would enjoy it so much, especially the seniors [goalkeeper Malia Tufuga, center Taiuta Uiagalelei and attackers Sey Currie and Ivana Garcia]. It’s their last year, and to win a CIF championship would be so amazing for them.”
Anderson has shown she will do whatever it takes to win. The road to the title match has not come easy for Costa Mesa, despite being the top seed. From the second round on, each match has been tight.
Coach Dustin Serrano said he made a defensive adjustment in the Mustangs’ 8-7 overtime win over Hacienda Heights Los Altos in the quarterfinals on Feb. 15. Midway through the match, he put Anderson on the Conquerors’ top player, senior Margarita Moreno.
The plan worked, as the Mustangs quieted Los Altos after the visitors scored four goals in the first quarter. Despite the tough defensive assignment, Anderson still had three goals, two assists and four steals.
That wouldn’t surprise Serrano, who has been there throughout Anderson’s career since she started playing the sport at age 9 for the Costa Mesa Aquatics Club.
She enjoyed playing on a 10-and-under coed team. After she aged out of that, CMAC did not have a 12-and-under girls’ team at the time, so Anderson continued playing with the boys. That hasn’t stopped as the years went on.
“Last year, I practiced with the boys straight for a month or two,” Anderson said. “I would play tournaments with the girls, but if I could make any of the boys’ games, I’d go play in their games, too. I just kind of find it really fun to play with the boys, because they’re funny and it’s hard. It’s a challenge.”
Anderson, who is 5-foot-7, should continue to grow in height as well as in her game. Her father, Garth, stands 6-8 and played basketball at Woodbridge High. Her mother, Kelly, also played water polo growing up.
Anderson is a good role model for her younger sisters, Kamryn is in fifth grade and Grace is in sixth grade. Both attend Davis Magnet School and have gotten into water polo.
“It would be so fun, and I think that everybody would enjoy it so much, especially the seniors [goalkeeper Malia Tufuga, center Taiuta Uiagalelei and attackers Sey Currie and Ivana Garcia]. It’s their last year, and to win a CIF championship would be so amazing for them.”
Anderson, who has been playing in the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program for two years, is a special talent. She also ran cross-country last fall and developed into a key contributor on the Mustangs’ Orange Coast League championship team, which advanced to the CIF State meet for the first time since 1997.
Anderson maintains her speed in the water, where she is able to get up on the counterattack.
“It makes everybody else’s jobs on the team a lot easier, understanding that we have probably one of the best players in Division 5 water polo on our team,” Serrano said. “I may have a bias, but every time I go and watch games, there’s very few girls that have the fundamental skills that she has at her age and level. And her speed is just insane, on top of that. At her age, there’s a select few that I’ve seen that can be able to match Kira’s game.”
On Saturday, Costa Mesa will try to cap a historic season by holding the CIF championship plaque. But regardless of the result, there’s one player who will be eager to get back to work.
After all, whether Anderson sets that goals record or not, she has three more years to try for it. Serrano has no doubt that she will get it eventually.
“Kira always has wanted to challenge herself and spend extra hours in the water,” he said. “Sometimes you have to beg kids to get into the water. You have to beg Kira to get out of the water and maybe rest sometimes.”
Born: April 29, 2005
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 5 feet 7
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Dustin Serrano
Favorite food: Poke
Favorite movie: “Unbroken”
Favorite athletic moment: Playing in a USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program national tournament last year at Riverside City College.
Week in review: Anderson scored a combined 14 goals as the Mustangs opened the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs with wins over Los Amigos in the first round, Norco in the second round and Hacienda Heights Los Altos in the quarterfinals.
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