Murphy's play inspiring for Corona del Mar

The tattoo on the inside of Diana Murphy's right foot means a lot.

At first glance, it might seem like an act of rebellion by a teenager. That couldn't be further from the truth.

The ink, which reads "Thar Gach Ni Eile," is instead a sign of solidarity. It is Irish Gaelic, and Murphy said it translates to "Family Above All Else."

Murphy's older brother, Jacob, has the same Gaelic phrase tattooed on his ribs. Her older sister, Kate, is also planning to get the tattoo.

"We're close siblings," said Diana Murphy, the youngest of John and Louise's three children.

Outside of the game Murphy is low-key and goes with the flow. She's the one who last summer in Hawaii also got a temporary henna tattoo on her back. It just said, "Sweet." It went nicely with CdM assistant coach Brian Mericle's henna tattoo, which said "Dude."

In the pool, though, the words on Murphy's foot retain their meaning. Right now she is putting her CdM girls' water polo family above all else, as the Sea Kings strive for the Pacific Coast League and, ultimately, CIF Southern Section Division I titles.

Maybe now fans might understand why Murphy plays with so much passion. At times during last weekend's Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, she appeared unstoppable at two meters.

Murphy was named the tournament MVP after scoring 12 goals. She had five goals in a 9-7 semifinal victory over Los Alamitos, then three more in a 10-8 victory over rival Newport Harbor in the championship match. She helped CdM (16-1) win the TOC for the third time, regaining its No. 1 ranking in the Division I poll in the process.

Even better for her team, her goals come at key times. In a quarterfinal win over three-time defending tournament champion Dos Pueblos, Murphy scored with three seconds left in the third quarter, evening the score after the Sea Kings had trailed most of the game. In the tournament final against Newport Harbor, Murphy beat a double-team to score with three seconds left in the first half. Then she struck again at the third-quarter buzzer after taking the pass from senior goalie Alex Musselman.

Murphy is headed to Princeton. Her play made her high school coach, Sam Bailey, look smart. She said her future college coach, Luis Nicolao, also was on the pool deck in Santa Barbara watching her shine.

Bailey called her "The Magical Murph" after CdM won the tournament. She is heating up; 24 of her 34 goals this season have come in CdM's last eight games.

"This is Diana at her best, but it's definitely not anything new," Bailey said. "She plays with so much emotion, and she's in a position right now as a senior where her emotional charge and her emotional connection with her teammates are probably more beneficial now than they've ever been. She's never really been in a position to be such a leader in the pool, and I think it's a natural position for her. Obviously, she succeeds and she thrives in that position."

Murphy said she started swimming when she was 5 years old, and playing water polo about three years later. Starting at a young age tends to happen when your older brother starred in the sport at CdM and later at UCLA, also playing for the U.S. men's national team. Jacob Murphy has also played professionally in Greece recently, Diana said.

Kate Murphy led CdM as a senior goalie in 2007 before playing water polo at UC Santa Barbara. She has an office job now and she also paints.

"She was in Paris for a while," Diana Murphy said. "She's the artistic one."

So where does that leave Diana?

"I guess I'm kind of the goofy one," she said. "I'm not very artistic, and Jacob's pretty much got the athletic one covered. Maybe [I'm] just a goof."

Goof or not, she has blossomed for CdM, perhaps a bit of a late bloomer with a late growth spurt. She didn't even set until her freshman year, when she was coached on the frosh-soph team by former CdM stars Christina Hewko (Stanford) and Vivian Liao (Harvard). Murphy said the influence of Hewko, a dominant center, definitely helped steer her in that direction.

She got pulled up for CIF her freshman year but didn't play. Two years ago, she was a sophomore on varsity but said she also didn't play much. Last year she crashed onto the scene, second on CdM in goals (61) and steals (35). Murphy earned first-team all-league, second-team All-CIF and Newport-Mesa Dream Team accolades.

Bailey has seen the competitive drive from all three Murphy siblings. Bailey coached Jacob when he was the head boys' coach at CdM in 2004, and again as an assistant at UCLA. He also coached Kate as an assistant to Aaron Chaney at CdM. He said all of the siblings are extremely hard workers, and all about the team.

Diana Murphy is a versatile player. Opponents know she can score, but that steals total from last year does not surprise Bailey. In Murphy and fellow senior Pippa Saunders, he has two girls who can set, defend or generally do anything that's needed.

"They balance each other really nicely," Bailey said. "It's fun as a coach to be able to see one of them make a huge defensive stop in the backcourt, then the other one come down and set up their offense in the front court. It could be one or the other. Diana's defense is outstanding. She's done a decent amount of center defense work, and she works well in the gaps and the lanes. She's been effective in the counterattack and in transition."

Murphy smiles and laughs a lot. It's just the way she is; self-deprecation is not an issue. Now, her swimming, that has been an issue.

"I've always been kind of an awkward swimmer," she said. "I still can't swim straight. I've worked with a lot of stroke coaches to straighten out my stroke."

She smiles again when she thinks of last summer, when she helped CdM win the California State High School Championships tournament. But now Murphy is smiling because she's thinking of how she memorized a dance sequence in a video game, before performing it in the CdM team room.

"I do like dancing," Murphy said. "I'm not the most graceful dancer though, either ... It's fun. Being able to laugh at yourself is important. I never try to take things too seriously. There's no fun in that, you know?"

Centers don't need to be graceful. Her strength and determination, as well as her senior leadership, are big positives for CdM. She is helping her team try to achieve a special season, one the seniors have been anticipating for years.

"We're a really close group," Murphy said. "It's awesome to think that, 'Wow, it's already our senior year.' It went by so fast, and we're all so close. [Senior] Victoria [Pierotti] and I have been really close friends for a while, since seventh grade when we met. She's really developed a lot as a player; she's gotten so good at set [defense].

"I think it's really cool to watch us all mature. Now it's our time, and we really want it."

For Murphy, it's really simple. It all comes back to that tattoo on her right foot.

Family above all else.

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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Diana Murphy

Born: Aug. 12, 1993

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-10

Sport: Water polo

Coach: Sam Bailey

Favorite food: Italian

Favorite movie: "Forrest Gump"

Favorite athletic moment: Winning the Battle of the Bay this year on senior goalie Alex Musselman's full-court shot at the buzzer.

Week in review: Murphy was named the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions MVP, scoring 12 goals in CdM's four games Jan. 13-14. She had five goals in a semifinal win over Los Alamitos, and three goals in the 10-8 championship match win over rival Newport Harbor at Santa Barbara High.

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