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‘Very motivated’ Corona del Mar girls’ water polo team continues its proud tradition

Reagan Weir, Ava Schoening and Didi Evans are team captains for CdM girls' water polo.
Reagan Weir, Ava Schoening and Didi Evans are team captains for Corona del Mar girls’ water polo this season. CdM goes for its second CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in three years on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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A first-year head coach who was hired in October, just weeks before the start of the season.

A young team with just one senior field player.

These are not typically ingredients that one would associate with a high school girls’ water polo team that’s a match away from winning a CIF Southern Section title.

Look closer, though, to see the smarts that have helped Corona del Mar make the formula work this winter.

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A majority of the varsity players are in a CdM program called the Academy of Global Studies, which presents a challenging pathway through high school chock full of Advanced Placement classes. It’s designed to foster leadership skills as part of a small learning community.

“Obviously, our team is really talented in the water, and that translates to school,” said CdM junior left-hander Didi Evans, a member of the academy. “We are well-rounded people.”

First-year head coach Marc Hunt leads the girls' water polo team at Corona del Mar during a practice on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Those intelligent, well-rounded people are seeking their second Division 1 title in three years on Saturday. Coach Marc Hunt’s top-seeded Sea Kings (19-11) play No. 3 JSerra (18-8) for the crown at 2:50 p.m. at Mt. San Antonio College.

Evans, fellow junior center Reagan Weir and Brown University-bound senior Ava Schoening lead Corona del Mar as the team’s three captains. They are the only players who were on varsity last year, when the Sea Kings advanced to the Open Division for the first time.

After graduating nine seniors, CdM has maintained a high level of play this season. Just once did the Sea Kings lose to a team ranked below them — a one-goal loss to Surf League foe Los Alamitos.

But CdM came back for a runner-up finish at the Irvine Southern California Championships, including a big 11-10 overtime victory over Long Beach Wilson in the quarterfinals — paced by a four-goal effort by junior lefty Mackenzie Dollander — and a 14-4 drubbing of Los Al in the semifinals.

Reagan Weir is one of the standouts for the girls' water polo team at Corona del Mar High.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“They’re very motivated girls,” said Hunt, a former longtime men’s water polo coach at his alma mater of UC Irvine. “When you bring in a new coaching staff, you’re bringing in a new system, new approaches, and they’ve been very open to it.”

Weir said that there have been more plays run this year. She said she thinks that has helped some of the less-experienced girls, including emerging juniors like Dollander, Tia Wells and Audrey Long.

“Having a set routine to get me, Ava and Didi the ball really has helped them become more confident,” Weir said. “They know, ‘I can do this and it will work out.’ Our team has a lot of trust in each other. Marc has really set a standard for [us], you always have your teammate’s back.”

Goalkeeper Dahlia Archer is the team’s other senior besides Schoening, and she’s split time in the cage with emerging junior Gabby MacAfee.

Hunt has long been a club water polo presence in the area, as the co-founder of Anteater Water Polo Club (now called Back Bay Aquatics) in 2004. He’s coached standout CdM boys players like brothers Kyle and Jack Trush, as well as seniors this year like Camren Simoncelli and Charles Warmington, over the years at Back Bay.

Ava Schoening swims into position for CdM during a practice on Thursday.
Ava Schoening swims into position for CdM during a practice on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Now he wants to build back up the CdM Aquatics club feeder program, which he said hasn’t been able to take girls’ teams to the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics in the younger 12-and-under and 14-and-under age groups in the last couple of years.

Hunt said most of his Back Bay 12U team will likely go to CdM, including his own daughter Halle.

Evans got her start playing at Newport Beach Water Polo, not CdM, quickly recruiting Weir to come play with her. Weir said her younger sister, Kendall, still plays in 12-and-unders at Newport.

“We need to rebuild the club, rebuild that pipeline,” Hunt said. “A lot of that pipeline is going to be augmented through Back Bay. We’re not directly CdM’s club at that time, but one of my goals is to reestablish our 10s, 12s and 14s from that pipeline side.”

It will be an important step toward ensuring the proud program stays strong in future years. Weir said she feels that pride in her own family.

Her father, Ryan, played for CdM boys’ water polo, as did her uncles, Austin and Carter. They played for the Sea Kings under USA Water Polo Hall of Fame inductee and longtime Stanford men’s head coach John Vargas.

Corona del Mar also remains a top name in the girls’ water polo world. The program is going for its eighth CIF Southern Section title on Saturday. One of the best women’s water polo players in the world, Maddie Musselman, once roamed that pool deck.

Ava Schoening, Reagan Weir and Didi Evans are girls' water polo standouts for Corona del Mar this season.
Ava Schoening, Reagan Weir and Didi Evans are girls’ water polo standouts for Corona del Mar this season. The girls are going for their second CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in three years on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Musselman, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, helped Team USA win gold at the 2024 World Aquatics World Championships in Qatar on Friday.

“Maddie Musselman is a water polo player I’ve looked up to for all my life,” said Schoening, who transferred to CdM from Washington state as a sophomore. “It’s awesome for me to come down here and feel connected to her story. It’s also awesome when I talk to teachers at my school, and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I knew Maddie.’ Everyone’s just so connected in this community, specifically CdM. I’m excited to continue this tradition, for sure.”

Returning nearly its whole team, CdM could boast its best squad in a while next year. But first things first.

The three captains, each of whom was on the title team two years ago, understand that Saturday’s match presents an opportunity to add another CIF championship.

And they’re fully smart enough to know that these chances don’t come all that often.

“I am so beyond excited,” Schoening said, pausing for just a second. “I’m nervous too. But if you’re not nervous, you don’t care.”

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