The Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team has never won the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. The Sailors have lost in the championship game six different times since 2003.
It's a statistical oddity that does not bother Coach Bill Barnett, whose teams have won three CIF Southern Section Division I titles in that span.
"There is not an explanation for it," Barnett said. "Better to be first at the end of the season than second in the middle."
Still, Barnett said he feels the Sailors have been playing well lately. As the No. 4 seeds, they definitely have a chance to claim their first TOC title this weekend in Santa Barbara.
Third-seeded Corona del Mar is also one of the favorites at the two-day tournament played at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos high schools.
The name of the tournament is certainly appropriate. The 16 entrants include the top eight teams in CIF Southern Section Division I, the top six teams in Division II, the top team in Division III and the top team in Division VI.
"The tournament is outstanding," Corona del Mar Coach Sam Bailey said. "Top to bottom, there's not a weak team, not an easy game in this tournament. Our girls definitely look forward to the competition."
Both local teams begin the two-day tournament Friday, playing at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta. The Sea Kings (10-1) clash with Edison first, at 1:30 p.m. A win would put CdM into a tournament quarterfinal against either Dos Pueblos or San Clemente at 5:30 p.m.
CdM, ranked No. 3 in Division I, has beaten both Edison and three-time defending TOC champion Dos Pueblos this year. The Sea Kings knocked off the Chargers, 9-2, in a Holiday Cup quarterfinal on Dec. 30, but that was a game that was close early. In its season opener Dec. 2, CdM ended Dos Pueblos' 68-game winning streak by winning the nonleague game, 10-8.
Through Wednesday, juniors Cassidy Papa and Ally McCormick paced the Sea Kings with 27 and 20 goals, respectively. The Sea Kings have won the TOC twice, most recently in 2008.
Newport Harbor (8-3) opens against El Toro at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Dos Pueblos. A victory would put the Sailors in a quarterfinal against either Laguna Beach or Montebello at 6:30 p.m.
The Sailors have yet to face any of the three teams this season. Newport Harbor and Laguna Beach are close in the Division I rankings at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.
UCLA-bound senior Maddy McLaren has a team-high 26 goals for the Sailors. Junior Carly Christian has scored 23 goals.
Holiday Cup champion Foothill and finalist Santa Barbara, now the top two ranked teams in Division I, are also the top two seeds in the tournament. Semifinals are scheduled for 11:10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Santa Barbara High, with the final at 4:35 p.m.
First, teams have to get through the first game.
"[El Toro] is a very dangerous team, very talented," Barnett said. "It's not like you have an easy game first and build from there. You just start off with a hard game and hope you do well."