The Corona del Mar High girls’ water polo team was missing a key starter for Wednesday’s second Surf League match at rival Newport Harbor.
Coach Justin Papa said that Michigan-bound senior Ella Abbott was out sick. That put junior Kira Hoffman into a starting role for the first time this season.
Hoffman responded by making a match-high five steals. That was part of a solid defensive effort by the Sea Kings overall, as they pitched a shutout until late in the fourth quarter.
CdM was on its way to a 5-2 victory over the Sailors, one that kept the Sea Kings in contention for at least a share of the league title.
“I found out today after school, when Ella told us she was going to be out,” Hoffman said. “Justin talked to me and told me that I was going to be starting today, so I knew I had to step up and fill that role for our team. It was definitely good for me. It got my nerves going before the game, but I knew that my teammates had faith in me. They told me to play my best and play hard, so that’s what I tried to do.”
The Sea Kings (14-4, 4-1 in league) finish up league play Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Laguna Beach, which improved to 5-0 in the league with an 8-2 win over Los Alamitos on Wednesday. The Breakers, top-ranked in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, beat CdM 8-7 on Jan. 17, but the No. 4 Sea Kings can forge at least a share of first with a victory in the second league matchup.
CdM did clinch a top-two finish in the league by beating third-place Newport Harbor (12-9, 1-4) for the second time in the Battle of the Bay series. This one wasn’t as dramatic as the first, a 6-5 sudden-death overtime victory on Jan. 15.
Sophie Wallace scored twice for the Sea Kings, while Grace Myers, Layne Anzaldo and Megan Peterson added one goal each. Goalkeeper Maya Avital had four goals and four steals.
Kaity Greenwald and Wallace each also had three steals for CdM, which held Newport Harbor to one for eight on its power-play chances. Newport Harbor failed to convert its first seven such chances, until freshman Lily Gess scored on freshman Morgan Netherton’s assist with 2:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We’re an active defensive team, and that’s something that our speed and our athleticism allow us to do,” Papa said. “We weren’t worried about the shutout. It obviously would have been an interesting story against our rival, but we want to win games. We’re not so interested in how … whether it’s a shutout or it’s in overtime, we want to get the win. It was nice today that it wasn’t as stressful as last time, but it was still a great game. The girls came out today focused and ready to go, and I was proud of their preparation showing through.”
Netherton had a goal and four steals and freshman Taylor Smith also had four steals for Newport Harbor, which utilized a field player — junior Emily Cantu — in goal. Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said the normal starting goalkeeper, senior Erin Ross, was out with a concussion and is day-to-day.
Cantu, who made three saves, said she has no previous experience in goal.
“She’s been incredible in this whole situation, the ultimate team player,” Sinclair said of Cantu.