COSTA MESA — The Costa Mesa High girls' water polo team made itself right at home Tuesday at the inaugural House of Stickers Winter Classic.
A new 50-meter pool means the Mustangs can host the tournament they plan to make an annual event.
They showed Tuesday that they can also contend for the title.
Costa Mesa downed Etiwanda, 14-3, before getting past the Aliso Niguel "B" team, 8-3, in pool-play action. The Mustangs, who won the three-team pool, play Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood in a semifinal at 10 a.m. today.
Aliso's "A" team plays La Serna in the other semifinal. The final is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Mesa Coach Tim Postiff knows his team has room for improvement, particularly offensively. But he was happy about a defensive effort that held Aliso's "B" team to just a single goal deep into the third quarter.
The Mustangs (9-6) have been without their top goal-scorer, senior utility Sydney Rosello, for their past four games. Postiff said she has an inflamed right elbow and shoulder and could be out for another week, but Rosello's misfortune has created opportunities for others.
"Some of the other girls have really stepped up, like [senior] Ashley DeMarzo and [sophomore] Kellie Thorsness have really stepped up," Postiff said. "They've taken over the center position for us."
DeMarzo had two goals and four steals against the Aliso "B" squad. Thorsness and senior Monica Folkerts also scored twice, with seniors Nicole Tfaye and Taylor Ives adding a goal each and sophomore Aubry Hill adding two steals.
Kiana Fortier scored twice to lead what Coach Eric Lynch said was essentially Aliso Niguel's junior varsity team. But Costa Mesa was too strong.
"I think early in the season, we were relying a little too much on Sydney," DeMarzo said. "I think this is kind of a blessing in disguise. Of course, it sucks that Sydney is hurt right now, but everyone is just working together. With her back in the pool and building up her strength, we're going to be a lot stronger as a team as a whole. Everyone today has shown that they can do their part."
That will need to continue against Harvard-Westlake, the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division IV poll. The Wolverines feature Stanford-bound Ashley Grossman.
But the Mustangs are also thinking big-picture. They open Orange Coast League play Jan. 12 against Godinez.
Next week, they also head up north for a tournament in Arroyo Grande, which has proven to be a good bonding experience for the team in recent years.
"It's really special to know you have your spot going to Arroyo," DeMarzo said. "I remember, I was like, 'Oh am I going to Arroyo this year?' For the new girls that get chosen to go, it really shows, 'I'm working hard and it's paying off.' "
That's exactly what the Mustangs intend to do, even without Rosello.
"We play together," Folkerts said. "Everyone works as hard as they can every day, at practice and during games."
Thorsness and Hill, the two sophomores, combined for seven goals in the tournament-opening victory over Etiwanda.