CORONA DEL MAR — At the start of the Holiday Cup, the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team had played just one match in the past 26 days.
The match was a thrilling Battle of the Bay win, sure, but that's not a lot of game experience. Still, practices lately have been productive.
"We have a quote, 'Practice at the highest level to play at the highest level,'" CdM senior Diana Murphy said.
Murphy said program alumni like Victoria Kent, Leslee Kaczmarek, Elise Molnar and Margot Money have come back for winter break and been scrimmaging with the team.
The Sea Kings certainly played at a high level Friday in the quarterfinals of the Holiday Cup. They overcame a slow start, playing strong defense to top Edison, 9-2, at CdM.
Top-seeded Corona del Mar (5-0) advances to Saturday's semifinals against Santa Barbara, at 11:45 a.m. at Newport Harbor High. Santa Barbara edged Laguna Beach, 4-3, in another quarterfinal match at CdM.
Edison (3-4) had something to do with CdM's slow start Friday. The Chargers, ranked No. 8 in CIF Southern Section Division I, played inspired defense in the first quarter, which ended scoreless. They killed off two CdM six-on-fives, one thanks to a nice field block from senior Jessica Becker.
"Edison came out and played really, really well," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said. "They played with a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. I think we were fortunate to weather that storm ... to hold them scoreless with their solid start was definitely a positive for us."
The Sea Kings, who are top-ranked in Division I, asserted themselves in the second quarter. Murphy, bound for Princeton, scored twice from set. Ally McCormick added a counterattack goal, then fellow junior Genevieve Weed blasted a shot into the left corner on the power play.
After sophomore Marina Coskinas walked the ball in and fired a shot into the upper-right corner, CdM suddenly had a 5-1 lead that it took into halftime.
"It wasn't a lack of effort in the first quarter," said Murphy, who scored a game-high three goals. "We were creating opportunities, but we just weren't executing. I think we just kept pushing our counter, and in the second quarter we started opening up on the counterattack. We started executing more, then we got more confident in our shots."
CdM extended its lead to 8-1 early in the fourth quarter when Cassidy Papa (two goals, two steals) scored a six-on-five goal. Bailey liked the defense he saw as the Sea Kings tried to limit the opportunities of Edison seniors Alys Williams (UCLA) and Ashley Dorman.
Williams did score both goals for the Chargers and led all players with four steals.
"Both of them are outstanding athletes," Bailey said. "We definitely wanted to keep a close eye on them, wherever they happened to be in the pool. If we're going to get scored on, we're going to get scored on by a full team attack, not just an isolation. I thought our team defense was outstanding. Everybody did a nice job covering a lot of water, and [Alex] Musselman obviously takes up a ton of space in the goal."
The UCLA-bound Musselman had another strong game, with 15 saves. Cal-bound CdM senior Pippa Saunders had a goal and two steals, and Weed also had a pair of steals.
Corona del Mar easily won its first game of the tournament Friday morning, blanking Coronado, 15-0. Papa led the way with five goals for CdM, which led, 10-0, after the first quarter.
Saturday's semifinal will be the second meeting of the year between CdM and Santa Barbara. The Sea Kings edged the Dons, 7-5, at home on Dec. 3.
The tournament final is scheduled for 4:05 p.m., also at Newport Harbor.
"We definitely want to take it one game at a time, but with the ultimate goal of winning the tournament," Murphy said.