Girls' Water Polo Playoffs: CdM, Tars earn top seeds

Five is the maximum amount of times the Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor high school girls' water polo teams can meet in a season.

The Sea Kings and Sailors have already met this year in the Battle of the Bay, the Holiday Cup third-place game and the championship games of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions and Irvine Southern California Championships.

That's four. The fifth game could be on the biggest stage of all, for the CIF Southern Section Division I championship.

CdM (25-2) is the top seed in Division I playoffs, and Newport Harbor is seeded No. 2. The Pacific Coast League champion Sea Kings begin their title quest at home on Wednesday, when they'll face the winner of Tuesday's wild-card match between Villa Park and Huntington Beach. Coach Sam Bailey said he will try to get the game, scheduled for 5 p.m., moved up to 4:15.

The Sunset League champion Sailors (23-4) also open at home at 5 p.m. Wednesday, against the winner of Tuesday's wild-card match between Northwood and Ventura.

Costa Mesa, which finished second in the Orange Coast League, is the other local team in the Division I mix. The Mustangs will play host to Los Alamitos at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The game is a designated home game for the Griffins, but Mesa Coach Tim Postiff said Los Al Coach Dave Carlson agreed to have it played at the Mustangs' pool.

Corona del Mar won three of the previous four meetings with Newport Harbor. The Santa Barbara TOC champions are the only one of the top teams with fewer than four losses. But just ask Bailey what the top seed means, especially this year.

"It doesn't really matter," said Bailey, in his second year. "Every game is a big game. You're going to have to win some big games."

The talent is deep this year in Division I. Should the Sea Kings win Wednesday, they'd likely face a huge challenge on Saturday in the quarterfinals. They lost a pre-flip to Dos Pueblos and would have to travel to Goleta to face the three-time-defending Division I champions.

The teams have played twice this season, with CdM winning both games by two goals. The first game, a 10-8 victory in the season opener Dec. 2, snapped the Chargers' 68-game winning streak.

Junior Cassidy Papa and Princeton-bound senior Diana Murphy lead CdM with 72 and 71 goals, respectively. The Sea Kings won five straight CIF titles from 2002-2006 but were moved up to Division I the following season and haven't won a title there.

Newport Harbor appears to have an easier path to the semifinals. Should the Sailors win their first-round match, they'd play either Palos Verdes or Canyon of Anaheim on the road in the quarterfinals. Palos Verdes was unranked in the final Division I poll, and Canyon was ranked No. 10. The Sailors beat Palos Verdes, 12-6, in a nonleague game Jan. 21.

"I think we're in a great position to get to the semis or the finals," Michigan-bound senior captain Presley Pender said. "I feel like we're peaking at the right time. We're really excited."

The Tars bring a 12-game winning streak into the playoffs. UCLA-bound senior Maddy McLaren and junior Carly Christian lead the team with 58 and 49 goals, respectively.

The Sailors have won four CIF titles. The last one came in 2008, before Dos Pueblos began its current run in Division I. That year, Newport rallied to beat CdM in overtime, 6-5, in the final. Each of the meetings this year have also been close, with three one-goal margins.

"We've been working so hard in practice just to match up with them in the finals," Pender said. "Beating them [at the SoCal Championships] felt so good, and I think we all want that feeling again."

Junior Kellie Thorsness leads Costa Mesa with 85 goals. Postiff has his team in the playoffs for the ninth time in his 10-year tenure, but he knows playing Los Alamitos will be a huge challenge. The Griffins finished the year ranked No. 5 in Division I.

Mesa has already played a top contender recently, losing to No. 3-seeded Laguna Beach, 21-3, in its final Orange Coast League game.

"It'll be a great learning experience for our kids," Postiff said. "The girls understand what's ahead of them. I think if we play with some confidence we could have a better showing than we did at Laguna."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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