IRVINE — The way the first half was going, nothing was going to stop the CdM Aquatics 18-and-under girls' team Thursday afternoon at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics.
Passes were precise. Shots were on target. The defense was suffocating.
The only misstep happened at the start of the third quarter, when the girls botched their team chant. That was all right, though, as CdM cruised to a 13-8 victory over Falcon at Beckman High. The victory, not as close as the final score would indicate, secured the locals' spot in the platinum bracket (top 24).
It was the second victory of the day for CdM, which had defeated Princeton, 15-5, in its opening match.
"I think we're playing really well," said emerging CdM sophomore Marina Coskinas, who scored twice against Pasadena-based Falcon. "Our intensity is up and we seem to be playing as a team more than we used to, so that's nice to see."
CdM does have a tough draw Friday in the platinum bracket. Ninth-seeded CdM plays eighth-seeded SoCal Black at 9 a.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. At noon, CdM will match up against top-seeded Santa Barbara Water Polo Club. Santa Barbara features Stanford-bound Kiley Neushul, who was widely considered the best high school player in the country before recently graduating from Dos Pueblos of Goleta. Dos Pueblos, three-time defending CIF Southern Section Division I champion, ended the high school season in February on a 67-match winning streak.
"At the end of the day, yeah you want to be competitive, but more than anything I think it's great to have an opportunity to play a variety of high-level competition," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said.
Bailey's squad has been doing plenty of winning as well after capturing the California State High School Championships on July 24. As the program's former longtime coach Aaron Chaney looked on, CdM breezed ahead of Falcon early, jumping out to a 12-1 halftime lead behind six first-half goals from junior-to-be Cassidy Papa.
Seniors-to-be Diana Murphy and Pippa Saunders also scored twice each, and incoming junior Ally McCormick also scored. With the game well in hand, Bailey switched things up at halftime.
He took out star goalie Alex Musselman and inserted her back-up, Erica Weed. He also went with the six field players of Coskinas and fellow incoming sophomores Bobbi Hoose, Kampbell Gritsch, Avery Warwick and Annie Mortimer, as well as junior Caitlin Brandenberger. Another emerging player who has been getting a lot of playing time this summer, incoming freshman Eliza Britt, is playing for the CdM 14U team at the Junior Olympics.
Weed made four saves in the second half.
Bailey values the experience his younger players are getting in these big summer tournaments. He said Coskinas has stepped up her offensive game after recently returning from a right shoulder injury (she's right-handed).
"They've really showed that they're capable of playing at the highest level," Bailey said. "They go and train on the kind of schedule that we put together during the summer, and it really shows what that kind of hard work will do."
Murphy had a team-high four goals in the opening match against Princeton. Coskinas and Papa each scored three goals, while Saunders and Morgan Stewart scored twice each.