When she was a seventh-grader in 2013, Chloe Harbilas watched then-senior captain Cassidy Papa lead the Corona del Mar High girls’ water polo team to its only CIF Southern Section Division 1 title.
As a freshman at CdM two years later, Harbilas had future Olympian Maddie Musselman, then a junior, as a team captain.
“She was such a great mentor and she really impacted my success,” Harbilas said. “It’s really cool to say that you played with an Olympian. She’s someone who was such a hard worker, was so humble and just would give back by helping everyone on the team.”
Role models like these have impacted Harbilas, who’s now the senior team captain. They’re also still around. Papa is an assistant coach for CdM this season after winning three NCAA titles at Stanford. Musselman was on hand last week to watch her alma mater play rival Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay game.
John Mann also was in attendance, making two CdM water polo Olympic alumni in the crowd. Harbilas said she loved it. She’s mature enough to understand the tradition of the program.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking to try to carry on the legacy in front of those awesome players who have done it before us, but to have that support and community behind us really fuels us to win it for them,” she said. “[We want] to keep CdM and that legacy up where it should be.”
Harbilas, the Daily Pilot High School Female Athlete of the Week, is certainly doing her part. She had three goals and three steals as the Sea Kings rallied for 7-6 victory over the Sailors on Dec. 22, despite having two key players, juniors Sophie Wallace and Layne Anzaldo, in foul trouble in the first half.
Wallace would end up scoring the winning goal with 33 seconds remaining. Without Harbilas’ steady play and defense, though, the Sailors would have likely pulled off the upset. Instead, Harbilas won her third straight Battle of the Bay game. She’s upped her scoring total in the rivalry game each year, from a goal as a sophomore to two as a junior to three this season.
One of two team captains with fellow senior Parker Hoffman, the Stanford-bound Harbilas has continued to develop. A four-year varsity player, she led CdM with 83 goals last season, earning Pacific Coast League MVP honors. This past summer, she played for the U.S. women's junior national team at the FINA Junior World Championships, her second travel tournament with the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program.
First-year CdM coach Justin Papa called Harbilas’ scoring output in the Battle of the Bay a quiet three goals.
“I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to her really dominating on the offensive end,” Papa said. “As far as what I’ve gotten to coach, boys and girls, she’s one of the best post-up players I’ve ever seen. Her ability to think about the right time to attack, her ability to set herself up and then her finishing ability are fantastic. Chloe is really well-rounded in the way she attacks.”
She’s equally adept on the defensive end, where she’ll often be assigned the task of guarding the opponent’s best player. Harbilas said she prefers making a field block or a steal over scoring a goal.
“In my mind, offense wins games but defense wins championships,” she said. “We’re here to win a championship.”
That mind-set, that belief is there for the Sea Kings. After losing in the Division 1 quarterfinals to San Marcos each of the last two seasons, this team has perhaps the best shot at a title since that 2013 squad. USC-bound senior goalie Erin Tharp is another key piece for the Sea Kings (5-1), who suffered their first loss of the season Saturday.
CdM lost to Mater Dei 9-5 in the Holiday Cup semifinals at Newport Harbor High, before bouncing back for a 7-4 win over Foothill in the third-place game. Harbilas had all three of her goals in the second half.
Harbilas, who leads the Sea Kings with 20 goals this season, will continue to push her team in and out of the pool. She holds herself to a high standard. Another one of her favorite memories from her freshman year was coming into the Division 1 semifinal game against eventual champion Laguna Beach with a starter in foul trouble.
The player who Harbilas had to defend? Then-senior Makenzie Fischer, another Olympian who will be Harbilas’ teammate next season at Stanford.
Could they be teammates on the Olympic team in the future? Time will tell, but Harbilas has those aspirations as well.
“It’s obviously a dream to play on the Olympic team,” she said. “I think little steps help get you there, continuing to work hard every practice no matter if it’s an ODP practice, a CdM practice. Just taking all the reps seriously, having that high intensity helps out. What I’ve learned from those role models is how I can be a better captain and leader.”
Justin Papa certainly wouldn’t put it past his senior captain, who continues to lead the Sea Kings in all aspects of the game. He said his only regret is that he’s only coaching Harbilas for one season before she graduates.
“She’s a super-talented athlete, and I’m really proud that she’s put the time in to becoming a great captain,” Papa said. “That’s something you don’t get from a lot of athletes, especially young athletes. She’s taken it to heart. She represents everything you’d want a CdM water polo player to be, and that’s rubbed off on this team.”
Born: June 11, 2000
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet 9
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Justin Papa
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: “The Blind Side”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping CdM girls’ water polo win the Battle of the Bay game as a senior.