CORONA DEL MAR — A good counterattack in water polo starts with good defense.
The Corona del Mar High boys' water polo team showed both attributes Thursday, breezing past Temecula Great Oak, 25-5, in a CIF Southern Section Division II playoff match at CdM.
After a first-round bye, top-seeded CdM took the first step toward defending its CIF title. The Sea Kings' offense was obviously successful, as they scored a season-high 25 goals.
But the team defense was also strong, holding Great Oak to two goals until the fourth quarter. It helped CdM move into Saturday's Division II quarterfinals, when it will play host to Riverside Poly. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m. at CdM, though Coach Barry O'Dea said the Sea Kings are trying to move it to 1 p.m.
Riverside Poly outlasted Esperanza, 13-12 in overtime, in another Division II second-round match Thursday.
The defense will help the Sea Kings as they advance. Individually, O'Dea said he has multiple strong defenders. Last year this was the case, as Hayden Leach, Nick Treadaway and Evan Ramsey shined.
This year it's a virtually new team. New shutdown defenders have stepped in: senior Charlie Howarth and juniors Reid Chase, Colby Watson and Kyle Trush.
"We've worked hard this year to have that same kind of formula," O'Dea said. "We think we have it."
Chase drew the primary assignment of guarding Great Oak's leading scorer, standout sophomore Preston Shore. He played on Team USA over the summer at the Pan American games in Puerto Rico with Newport Harbor's Dan Stevens.
Shore ended up with a team-high three goals; O'Dea was impressed with Chase's defense. But Watson also made an impact when he was inserted into the game, getting a couple of nice field blocks in the second quarter.
The Sea Kings are deep. Midway through the first quarter, O'Dea removed his starters and put in a second line of Watson, Ty Hack, Jack Harryman, Kyle Kreunen, Blake Motal and Jedd Thayer.
"That's one of the main things we do," said CdM senior center Ben Zepfel, who scored four goals. "We like to have six guys come in and wear the other team down, then throw in another six fresh guys. By that time, the other team's really tired, and those other six guys come in and bring the same level of effort and intensity."
Nearly everyone found the back of the net for CdM. Trush led the way with five goals, Kyle Kreunen scored three and Howarth, Ari Marks, Harryman and Watson added two each. Chase, Armen Mavusi, Wes Sherburne, Thayer and Jake Wyatt all scored a single goal for CdM (22-6).
O'Dea highlighted the play of Kreunen, who played solid defense and scored on the counterattack.
"It definitely feels good that we can trust our teammates to help us, if we need that help," Trush said.
The goalie play of senior A.J. Santa Maria (five saves) and junior Patrick McKenzie (six) was also solid. And the Sea Kings were also improved in an area that has been a work-in-progress this season, their six-on-five offense.
CdM converted six of seven power-play opportunities.
It was all impressive to Great Oak Coach Chris Shore, who had senior captains Caelan Griggs and Jake Kern also get on the scoreboard for the Wolfpack (17-13). Shore is familiar with CdM's history, since he played at El Toro under Don Stoll and coached at Trabuco Hills.
He wouldn't bet against the Sea Kings repeating as CIF champions.
"They're definitely as good as advertised," Chris Shore said. "They may go back-to-back here. They're bigger and faster than anybody we've faced in the Inland Empire. It was good for us to come here and get that kind of experience."
The experience the Sea Kings want again is just three wins away.
"I think we played pretty well," Zepfel said. "I think we're really peaking at the right time."