Mustangs hang on

COSTA MESA — Prior to its Orange Coast League opener, the Costa Mesa High girls' water polo team spent last weekend up north at the Arroyo Grande tournament.

The young Mustangs started out slow, losing their first two games. They came back much stronger Saturday, recording a pair of victories.

"It kind of opened our eyes," junior Aubry Hill said. "When we're playing difficult teams or teams that are close to us, we really have to get on top of it and stop messing around."

When it comes to facing crosstown rival Estancia in the Battle for the Bell game, Costa Mesa has never messed around. Mesa junior Kellie Thorsness was certainly all business Wednesday at the Mustangs' pool.

Thorsness scored a game-high six goals as Costa Mesa hung on for a 7-6 victory over Estancia in the league opener. The Mustangs have never lost the rivalry game, dating back to when the programs began in the late 1990s.

"I tried to come out really aggressive," said Thorsness, who also drew two exclusions and a penalty shot. "During this game, since it's our rival, I was like, 'All right. It's time to step it up another notch.' Normally I play pretty close to that, but today it was just like, 'It's on. I'm ready for this.'"

Costa Mesa never trailed. Thorsness made sure the Mustangs (9-9) had a fast start, scoring on her team's second possession. Then, after Thorsness stole the ball, her teammate Katurah Telles scored to give Mesa a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

Estancia (9-8) did not fold. Junior Ilene Umansky kept her team close, scoring twice in the quarter that ended with the Mustangs up, 3-2.

Umansky, who leads Orange County with 88 goals scored, added four more to her total. Mesa Coach Tim Postiff switched up his defense throughout the game, at times running a drop on two meters but at times pressing.

Aubry Hill and freshman Lauren Smith, who had three steals, helped the Mustangs out defensively. So did Hill's younger sister, sophomore Kaitlyn Hill, who had a strong game with eight saves and a steal.

"It just depended on what they came out in," Postiff said. "When they tried to isolate Umansky and leave some of their players at seven or eight yards, I feel like Kaitlyn is good enough to make those blocks. We'll give them those shots, as opposed to having [Umansky] take those shots from center. We just kind of adjusted to what they were trying to do offensively. Aubry does a good job of telling the girls where to be."

Umansky still nearly single-handedly kept Estancia close. Her fourth goal, after a strong inside drive, pulled the Eagles within 5-4 after three quarters.

Mesa tried to pull away early in the fourth after Thorsness scored two more goals. On the second, she literally posted up right in front of the cage. Estancia Coach Jennifer Broderick yelled at the referee that Thorsness was inside two meters, but the call was not made and Thorsness padded the Mustangs' lead to three goals.

The Eagles buckled down on defense, and Umansky finally got some help with the scoring. Estancia senior Sara Ray scored twice in the fourth quarter, the second goal coming with 26 seconds left and pulling the Eagles within 7-6. But the Mustangs played keep-away after a timeout, holding on for the victory.

Umansky led all players with four steals, and Eagles senior Vanessa Rodriguez had three steals. Junior goalie Alexis Paul, a lefty, had 12 saves and made two steals.

Broderick said she has seen improvement from her team. Last weekend at the Falcon Tournament the Eagles beat Godinez and Fullerton, two teams to which they had lost earlier in the season.

"We came in riding high on that," Broderick said. "We just couldn't quite finish today. We needed a couple more minutes."

Postiff said his team, which has just one senior in Claudine Le, was inconsistent. The Mustangs went scoreless in three power-play opportunities and missed a penalty shot off the bar, though they did draw — and convert — two other penalty shots.

"We left a lot of [goals] out there," Postiff said. "We had moments where we played well, but it wasn't for a consistent four quarters. But kudos to [Estancia]. They came to play. They played hard for the entire game. They didn't give up; they were battling until the last second."

Regardless, the Mustangs were able to come out on top yet again. They're trying to make the CIF playoffs for the ninth time in Postiff's 10-year tenure.

Thorsness and Aubry Hill said the players realize the program has never lost the bell game, but it isn't something they talk about.

"No, we don't let that have any effect on our game," Aubry Hill said. "We go in knowing that we could lose to this team. If we win, that's great. If we lose, we lose. But hey, we didn't lose. We won."


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