CORONA DEL MAR — The players on the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team have numbers on the back of their jerseys, but maybe nametags on the front might also have been appropriate Tuesday.
Several of the Sea Kings have had club commitments the past couple of weeks. Coach Bryan Middleton said the nonleague season opener against visiting Costa Mesa was the first time he's had his whole squad assembled.
"This is the first time we've come together as a team this year," Middleton said after CdM captured a 6-1 victory. "I had 11 girls gone for club this last week. It's good to get together."
There were no team chemistry issues as the Sea Kings found the back of the net six times. Senior midfielder McKenzie Brown tallied half of that total, starting the season strong with a hat trick.
Brown was deadly near the top of the 18-yard box. She showed off a strong left foot from that spot on her final goal, pounding a shot into the lower-left corner of the net.
Brown is right-footed. It didn't matter.
"I scored two goals with my left," she said. "Some days I play better with my left foot, I don't know why. It was one of those days."
Junior Amanda Stephenson scored the final two goals for the Sea Kings, who are tied for 10th in the CIF Southern Section Division I poll. Middleton said Stephenson, junior defender Sydney Raguse and sophomore midfielder/forward Annie Alvarado were in North Carolina last weekend, for U.S. Youth Soccer National League competition.
The three players sat out the first half Tuesday but made their presence felt after the break. Alvarado tallied two assists after long runs down the right side of the field.
"When they stepped on the field in the second half, our game picked up a little bit for sure," Middleton said.
Junior Allyson Brahs, who has verbally committed to the University of Washington, scored the game's first goal just two minutes in. A cross from Emily Krebs went to Katrina Burke, who headed it to Brahs.
Brown scored her first goal in the 15th minute, but eight minutes later the Mustangs (1-1) got on the board. A free kick from senior Scarlett Zambrano found the foot of junior Darian Miller, who scored her second goal in as many games. Mesa was down just 2-1 at halftime.
Mesa senior defender Shaylen McNulty cleared out as many balls as she could, but the Sea Kings continued to keep Mesa junior goalie Margarita Acevedo (eight saves) busy in the second half.
Coach Dan Johnston watched his Mustangs and knew there's room for improvement. He said he likes to play Corona del Mar, however, because the Sea Kings "expose our weaknesses."
"Unfortunately, we had more weaknesses than strengths today," Johnston said. "It's OK, [they're just] things to work on. We kept letting [Brown] run free right at the top of the box. She played a great game. She was all over the place; she was a huge difference in the game."
CdM goalie Lindsey Luke needed to make just three saves before giving way to fellow senior Taryn Greenberg.
Luke, who has committed to Wake Forest, didn't play high school soccer last year after earning first-team All-Pacific Coast League honors as a sophomore. CdM is especially glad to have her back for her senior year as junior Sarah Cox, who was a first-team all-league goalie last year, is out for the season with an ACL injury. Cox has verbally committed to Stanford.
Middleton knows a defense led by Luke and senior sweeper Kaylee O'Connor, who play club together for Slammers, will be tough for opponents. He said the Butch Lee Memorial Classic tournament in San Diego this weekend will also be tough.
After opening Thursday against San Pasqual, the Sea Kings face Santa Margarita at 5 p.m. Friday at Cathedral Catholic High. Santa Margarita is ranked No. 4 in Division I and No. 2 in the county by the Orange County Register.
The Sea Kings, who made the Division II quarterfinals last year, were moved up a division.
"We'll get tested early down there," Middleton said of the tournament. "We'll see how we match up with the big Division I teams. We might as well make sure we're playing top-quality opponents all through preseason, to get us ready for league."
Brown said she knows Division I will be tough, but she thinks her teammates can handle it.
"I think if we just work together, like we did this game, we can work through it," she said.