Sofia Rice was proud to play varsity girls’ water polo at Costa Mesa High for four years.
The senior’s career ended Thursday in her home pool. The Mustangs battled but lost 12-7 to top-seeded Moreno Valley Valley View in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
Most players end their careers on a loss. Rice was proud of hers, in a match in which the Mustangs were tied 3-3 after the first quarter and trailed just 7-5 at halftime.
“It was the coolest feeling ever to fight so hard in a game,” Rice said. “I know that we were all nervous going into it. We really had to shake out those nerves and just play our hardest. It was amazing how we played in the beginning. It was just so cool.”
Part of the pride in being a Mustang also comes from Rice’s family history. Her parents, Jeff and Jaime, both attended Costa Mesa High, playing baseball and soccer respectively. Her grandparents on her dad’s side, Candace and Rob, also were Mustangs.
Sofia Rice is one of the most talented female girls’ water polo players the school has produced in years. A four-year starter, she was a feisty and prolific scorer despite her 5-foot-1 frame. In her senior season, she also accomplished something big.
Rice, one of three team captains, along with junior attacker Sey Currie and senior goalkeeper Rianne Baesman, helped Costa Mesa (15-13 overall) win the outright Orange Coast League title with a 4-0 mark. It’s the first league title for the Mustangs since they captured the Golden West League crown in 2003-04.
This season’s squad did it in style, wrapping league up with a 20-2 win at rival Estancia in the Battle for the Bell match on Jan. 30. Rice had her typical well-rounded game, with seven goals, five assists and five steals.
Heading into the postseason, she led the team in goals (83), assists (60) and steals (76).
“It’s always been one of my favorite things to do, making that goal, especially for the team,” Rice said. “Seeing the team win is just the best feeling.”
Rice came into the program with club experience, first at Costa Mesa Aquatics Club, where she and Currie would play on a coed team with the boys. Going into 14-and-unders, CMAC didn’t have a girls’ team, so Rice went to go play club with Laguna Beach for a season.
She became good friends with the Breakers’ current senior group of goalkeeper Quinn Winter, Claire Kelly, Cici Stewart, Evie Laptin and Bryn Gioffredi. Rice was there when the Laguna Beach quintet celebrated its senior day on Feb. 1.
For Costa Mesa, Rice said she felt herself in a leadership role since she was a freshman.
“You can’t really have all of this experience and not use your voice,” she said. “I definitely think I’ve been a leader since freshman year, but I’ve really had to step it up, especially last year. That’s when I became more of a leader.”
That leadership has been valuable on a Costa Mesa team that was young. Dustin Serrano, who coaches at his alma mater with his twin brother, Cody, said there are 11 sophomores in the program. Seven of them were on varsity this season, including Michelle Kiefer, who was fourth on the team with 40 goals.
Dustin Serrano said Rice has been practically a little sister to himself and Cody.
“We’ve watched her grow since she was 9 years old,” he said. “She’s family to us, and it’s been rewarding to watch her these last four years just legitimately ball out every single game. Like every other player, she has bad games, but she’s still going to shoot. She could miss eight shots in a game, and that won’t affect her as long as she made the three or four goals that were going to help her team win.
“If she’s not scoring, she’s assisting and stealing the ball more than anybody else. She’s a natural offensive talent, and she’s really picked up her defense this year, taking on the role of guarding set a couple of times.”
Rice, the oldest of four sisters, said she is unsure if she will keep playing the sport in college. But she will definitely remember her high school years fondly. The win at Estancia, her fourth in four years, was a highlight.
“It was so exciting,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking, but I’m really excited. I was definitely nervous going in. Any team can win any day, so I was definitely nervous, just because it was for league and the Bell. It was my last Bell game. I’ve been going to Battle for the Bell games since I was like 5 years old, just seeing Costa Mesa and Estancia. It was crazy playing my last game, but I’m very glad how it turned out.”
Born: March 5, 2001
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 5 feet 1
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Dustin Serrano
Favorite food: Mexican
Favorite movie: “10 Things I Hate About You”
Favorite athletic moment: As a sophomore, helping the Mustangs beat Arcadia 5-1 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs in 2017.