In water polo, left-handers are quite a commodity.
They provide balance to an offensive attack and an extra dimension to the six-on-five, since they don't have to shoot across their bodies like their right-handed counterparts. They can throw defenses off-balance.
But after spending the summer working as a lifeguard in Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar High junior lefty Ally McCormick threw her own coach for a loop this fall in a night league game.
Sam Bailey put McCormick in. He saw no rust.
"She came off the bench and took over the game," Bailey said. "It wasn't what I was necessarily expecting. It took me by surprise, but Ally plays up to the occasion. It didn't take her very long to be right back up at the top of the list."
McCormick started off the high school season on fire, too. Three-time defending CIF Southern Section Division I champion Dos Pueblos was the team she threw off-balance in CdM's season opener Dec. 2.
McCormick scored four goals in the first half, all on the counterattack. She was a big reason why the Sea Kings ended the Chargers' 68-game winning streak, 10-8, at CdM.
The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, who also scored twice in CdM's 7-5 victory over Santa Barbara the following day, is a valuable player for CdM for many reasons. The counterattack is where McCormick's standout speed is obvious. Either she or fellow junior Cassidy Papa is always a threat to take a long pass from senior goalie Alex Musselman and burn the defense.
"We're really working on a six-person counter this year," McCormick said. "I didn't go into [the Dos Pueblos game] thinking I was going to counter that much, but when I had those opportunities I really tried to do well. Cassidy and I have been teammates for such a long time. We know when to pass each other the ball and we can really work, especially on our three-on-two counter and our two-on-one counter. It makes it even better."
Nobody should doubt McCormick's speed. She is the one who set the girls' school record in the 100-yard freestyle (51.94 seconds) last year at the Pacific Coast League finals. Her freshman year, she was on a CdM 200 free relay team with Margot Money, Hollace Barden and Brynne Wong that also set a school record (1:39.23) at CIF finals.
Swimming is a necessary evil for many water polo players to stay in shape, but McCormick enjoys it. One thing about her is that she is well-rounded.
She's at home on the beach, where McCormick has been a junior lifeguard since she was 9. The job caused her to miss some time for CdM polo this summer. McCormick didn't play in the California High School State Championships, which CdM won in July.
"I tried to go to most of the morning practices, and I played in JOs," McCormick said. "It was really difficult. I definitely missed the team a lot, but at the same time, lifeguarding in Laguna was one of the greatest experiences that I'm going to continue in the summers to come … It's so much fun. It's such a great working environment, and you also get to stay in shape as you're doing it."
McCormick's talents extend to the classroom, where she has a cumulative 4.1 grade-point average, and they also hold up during a water polo game.
On offense, left-handers are almost always on the right side. But when they transition to defense, that means they're often matched up against a team's top right-handed driver.
With some lefties, that might be a problem, but not with McCormick and her defensive prowess.
"Some teams will sacrifice a little bit of defense to have that left-handed presence in the water," Bailey said. "With Ally, we lose nothing."
She's been playing the sport for close to eight years now. It was when she was in junior high that she was coached by her dad Matt, who played at Long Beach Wilson. On those teams, Matt McCormick coached much of the talent on CdM's current roster, players such as Musselman, Papa, Pippa Saunders, Diana Murphy and Victoria Pierotti. Several of the players have said that they've been waiting for this high school season since then.
The Sea Kings are currently the top-ranked team in Division I. They're 2-0 as they prepare for the Battle of the Bay game Friday at Newport Harbor.
McCormick is also a gifted passer. She had 60 goals and a team-best 62 assists last year, on her way to second-team all-league and Newport-Mesa Dream Team selections. She will do her part to help make her third year on varsity memorable.
"It's great, because we have Diana and Pippa who are such strong setters, and Cassidy's a great outside shooter," McCormick said. "It's really fun, especially when our setters are working super hard at set, to give them a pass, or cross it to Cassidy. Obviously it's really great when you can score, but I think it's even better when you can set up your teammate. We're all working together; we're not like a one-man team. We're all working for each other."
McCormick's family is proud of her. It's a big one, including two older sisters and two younger brothers. Katie is a sophomore at BYU. Shannon is a senior at CdM who used to play water polo but stopped after her sophomore year. Instead, Shannon is now involved with the ASB on campus and the "Youth & Government" program.
"That's kind of her thing," said Ally McCormick, whose younger brothers Tim and Hayden are in eighth and sixth grades, respectively. "She's a really good public speaker."
Ally is more quiet, yet there is a confidence about her. When you've been playing water polo for this long and wake up at 5 a.m. to be at practice by 5:35, it takes a certain level of commitment.
And, when the Sea Kings need a spark, it can be similar to when McCormick is stationed in a lifeguard tower.
She can come to the rescue.
Born: March 27, 1995
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet 7
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Sam Bailey
Favorite food: Mexican
Favorite movie: "Up"
Favorite athletic moment: Making the CIF Southern Section Division I girls' water polo semifinals with CdM her freshman and sophomore years.
Week in review: McCormick scored six combined goals as the Sea Kings, ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division I, won their first two games of the season. She scored four counterattack goals in the season-opening 10-8 win over Dos Pueblos on Dec. 2, helping end the Chargers' 68-game winning streak.