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Corona del Mar girls’ water polo hangs on for CIF Division 1 title

The Corona del Mar Sea Kings celebrate with the championship plaque after beating Agoura 8-7.
The Corona del Mar Sea Kings celebrate with the championship plaque after beating Agoura 8-7 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo championship match on Saturday at Woollett Aquatics Center.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Chaos reigned at the end, but junior goalkeeper Sarah Decker never flinched.

The Corona del Mar High girls’ water polo team jumped into the water Saturday afternoon, thinking it had just won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. Instead, it was ruled that though the shot clock had expired, there was still a second left on the game clock.

Agoura earned a five-meter penalty shot, with an opportunity to tie the match. CdM coach Melissa Seidemann was incredulous.

In that moment, Decker had to stay calm.

“You just have to finish the game,” she said after the match. “It’s not over until it’s actually over. I have all my teammates supporting me. My best friend Emily [Cloherty] was there, back in the cage with me. She was like, ‘You got this.’ That was really helpful.”

CdM's Mia Bernhoit, center, head coach Melissa Seidemann, right, and Aliyah Cohen, second from left, jump in to celebrate.
Corona del Mar’s Mia Bernhoit, center, head coach Melissa Seidemann, right, and Aliyah Cohen, second from left, jump in the pool after the Sea Kings beat Agoura 8-7 on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Decker lunged left and was in position to block an on-target shot. But the penalty shot actually banged off the right post.

The Sea Kings jumped in the pool once more, champions of Division 1 after earning the 8-7 victory over top-seeded Agoura at Woollett Aquatics Center.

It’s CdM’s first CIF championship since the last time it won the Division 1 title, in 2013.

Cloherty scored two goals for the Sea Kings (19-13), but she was the only one with more than one. It was a balanced effort that helped the Sea Kings raise the championship plaque at the end of the grueling match.

Mia Bernhoit, Aliyah Cohen, Jillian Schlom, Aubrie Anderson, Didi Evans and Claire Eusey added one goal each for the winners.

Corona del Mar goalkeeper Sarah Decker makes a save against Agoura on Saturday.
Corona del Mar goalkeeper Sarah Decker makes a save against Agoura during the first half in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo championship match on Saturday at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Decker came up big at the end, blocking a five–on-six shot from Agoura’s Chloe Gardhouse in the final minute of the fourth quarter, her eighth stop of the match.

“The word ‘composure’ came up a lot the last two weeks, and she was definitely one of the spearheads of that composure,” said Seidemann, the three-time Olympic gold medalist who led CdM to the title in her second year as coach. “I’m super-proud of her. She had some ups and downs through the season, [but] she shows up big to unify that team.”

Anderson, a junior, scored the eventual match-winning goal off a timeout in the fourth quarter. She drove inside, took Eusey’s precision pass and buried the goal, giving CdM an 8-6 advantage with 4:14 left.

Agoura senior Kai Blankenship scored bar-in with 2:50 to go, bringing the Chargers (23-8) within a single goal again. But they couldn’t find the equalizer.

Corona del Mar's Aliyah Cohen scores against Agoura during Saturday's match.
Corona del Mar’s Aliyah Cohen scores against Agoura during the first half in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo championship match on Saturday at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Bernhoit and Eusey, who are bound for UC Santa Barbara and Brown University respectively, picked up the championship plaque at the end and carried it back to the team.

The moment was significant. The two were also on the bench as freshmen when CdM lost the 2019 Division 1 title match to Laguna Beach in sudden-death overtime, but didn’t see the water.

“We’ve been friends since we were really, really young,” Bernhoit said. “Playing four years with her, and now we’re won a CIF championship, that’s crazy. We’re so proud of the team. We have worked so hard to get where we are right now.”

Eusey held the plaque firmly in her grasp as she stood in front of the stands after the match.

“Our freshman year, we sat on the bench in the final game, and we lost,” she said. “So coming back our senior year and getting the win, that was amazing. Such a great feeling.”

Corona del Mar's Emily Cloherty attempts to score a penalty shot against Agoura during Saturday's Division 1 final.
Corona del Mar’s Emily Cloherty attempts to score a penalty shot against Agoura during the first half in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo championship match on Saturday at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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