Back in January, Corona del Mar High boys' water polo coach Barry O'Dea didn't know what to think of his team.
The Sea Kings had graduated eight seniors who were key players including Max Bergeson, a two-time Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year now at Cal.
Then came two double-digit losses to rival Newport Harbor during club play. O'Dea never became discouraged about the future however. He kept telling his players it was part of the process, not necessarily a rebuilding process, but a method of attaining success.
Back then he told them, "We're training for November."
So how is it now?
"We're pretty excited about where we're at," O'Dea said.
The Sea Kings (19-8) earned the No. 2 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs when the pairings were released Sunday.
CdM, the Pacific Coast League champion, will play a home game Thursday at 3:15 p.m. against Tuesday's wild-card winner between host Schurr (14-9) and El Modena (16-12).
Newport Harbor (21-4), the Sunset League champion, is the No. 4 seed in Division I. The Sailors play host to Santa Margarita (9-20), which finished third in the Trinity League, Wednesday at 3:15 p.m.
Estancia (20-5), second in the Orange Coast League, will play at Damien (20-4), the No. 2 seed in Division III, Wednesday in La Verne.
"We have our minds on where we want to be," said O'Dea, whose team beat Newport Harbor, 13-10, in the Battle of the Bay game Oct. 23. "We have been progressing very well. We just want to play our best water polo into the playoffs."
It looks like the Sea Kings are doing just that, led by senior two-meter man Chase Watson.
He's the type of player who makes his teammates around him better, O'Dea said.
"He's the best two-meter player in the division," O'Dea said. "Chase is a guy who draws so much attention that he frees up a lot of [his teammates] and gives them a chance to have their moments."
If CdM wins Thursday, the Sea Kings know they'll be on the road for the quarterfinals. They lost the coin toss and would play at either Martin Luther King (21-8) in Riverside or Vista Murrieta (18-11) in Murrieta.
Murrieta Valley (25-3), the Southwestern League champion, is the top seed in Division II.
Newport Harbor, which reached the championship game last year, is on course for an intense semifinal against top-seeded Mater Dei (23-2), the Trinity League champion. The Sailors are led by junior Farrell South and a strong defense anchored by senior goalie Chris Whitelegge.
Estancia has enjoyed a breakthrough-type year. Seniors Charlie Umansky and Preston Schow have led the way. They'll be challenged in the first round against a Damien team that won the Sierra League title.
Laguna Beach (21-6), the Orange Coast League champion, is the Division III top seed.