SANTA BARBARA — A fifth-place finish at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions probably wasn't what the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team wanted when the weekend began.
On Friday night, many of the Sea Kings had tears in their eyes after their tough loss to Back Bay rival Newport Harbor in the tournament quarterfinals.
But the Sea Kings left Santa Barbara High with their collective head up late Saturday afternoon, hopping back onto Highway 101 knowing they still come out of the tournament with momentum.
CdM beat Montebello, 16-12, in a fifth-place semifinal before getting past Laguna Beach, 6-4, in the fifth-place game. The Sea Kings (10-5) stayed true to their tournament seeding, even if they didn't think they should have been seeded that low to begin with.
"We thought it was a little weird," junior goalie Alex Musselman said after CdM beat third-seeded Laguna Beach for the third time this season. "We thought we had proved ourselves to not be placed where we were. But we're going to take whatever we get and make the best of it. In a way, it was a challenge."
The Sea Kings and all-tournament team selection Pippa Saunders answered the call. That's Saunders who CdM fans have heard coughing her lungs out in recent weeks. First she had the flu, now she said she has bronchitis.
Saunders said she can't wait until the Sea Kings, who finished second at the Holiday Cup, get back to full strength. They're also still missing senior captain Maddie Schwartz in the water (injured right index finger).
"When we have everyone to their full ability, we do very, very well," Saunders said.
Everyone wasn't there in the fourth quarter against the Breakers, as Saunders and sophomore Ally McCormick both fouled out. But there was junior sub Victoria Pierotti, making a crucial field block to help preserve the lead.
"She's a really, really smart player," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said. "She does things that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet."
Musselman also made a big penalty shot block on Laguna's Jessie Holechek with 1:45 left in the game, stopping the Breakers from pulling closer than the 6-4 final score. Musselman, who made 16 saves in the fifth-place game, denied four penalty shots in the tournament.
"That's my favorite thing," she said. "I love five meter [penalty shots]. We practice them every practice, lots of them, and that's just my favorite thing. I'm not scared of them at all."
Saunders scored twice against Laguna, with McCormick, Lauren Marks, Diana Murphy and Cassidy Papa each scoring once.
"[Laguna Beach] is a very physical team, which can affect how we play sometimes," Murphy said. "But I think it's good to show that we can persist. It's nice to end the tournament on a winning note, definitely, especially after that Newport loss."
Saunders also led CdM in scoring against Montebello, with six goals. Murphy and Papa scored five and four, respectively, and sophomore Genevieve Weed also found the back of the net.
McCormick played like Magic Johnson in the game, dishing out nine assists.
Top-seeded Dos Pueblos won the tournament title for the third straight year, beating Channel League rival Santa Barbara, 11-3, in the final. The Chargers have now won 52 straight games dating to February 2009, the second-longest streak in CIF Southern Section history.