Bryan Middleton has been coaching girls' soccer at Corona del Mar High for nine seasons and he admits he has never seen a team quite like his 2011-12 squad.
These Sea Kings are not done setting a new standard at CdM yet.
Their quest for the school's first girls' soccer CIF title continues Friday, when the Sea Kings face Santa Margarita in a Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal at Jim Scott Stadium. The game starts at 3 p.m.
Even though Middleton refers to this team as his best, he believes the Sea Kings are the underdogs in Division 1.
Yes, CdM is the top seed. Yes, the Sea Kings are 22-2-2. They have 17 shutouts this season and have scored 58 goals, while allowing just 12.
However CdM has yet to win a CIF title and is vying to become the champ in only its second year in Division 1.
But still, underdogs?
Middleton knows that is not entirely true. CdM has felt the pressure of being the top seed. There were certain jitters in the first round, when the Sea Kings advanced after a 1-0 win over Huntington Beach.
Another test came in the second round. CdM had to rally from a one-goal deficit to top host Yucaipa, 2-1, with both goals coming in the second half.
Now comes Santa Margarita (15-5-2).
The Sea Kings beat the Eagles, 1-0, in the Butch Lee Memorial tournament back in December. CdM went on to lose in the final, 3-0, to Westview, which is ranked No. 2 in the Powerade Fab 50 national rankings. Corona del Mar is ranked No. 9.
"They are very similar to how we play," Middleton said of Santa Margarita, the Trinity League champion. "They are definitely more possession-oriented with their players. And, they play a nice, clean game."
More than likely, the Eagles will have tough time scoring against CdM, the Pacific Coast League champ. The Sea Kings have been dominant on defense with standout goalie Sarah Cox and players who have shown great chemistry.
Cox is one of four seniors who have played on varsity since they were freshmen. They are all going to NCAA Division I programs. Cox is headed to Stanford. Forward Ally Brahs is going to Washington. Sweeper Sydney Raguse is bound for Michigan and defender Amanda Stephenson has committed to George Mason.
The four seniors have played the past two years with this season's junior class, which features midfielders Annie Alvarado, Karsten Sigband and Alexa Mamatas, as well as forward Maddie O'Connor and defender Alana Hunter.
Familiarity meshed with "plenty of talent," has been a huge reason for the CdM's success this season, Middleton said.
The CdM coach has always wanted a CIF title since he got the job in 2002. He knew stability would help. He took over after Ron Evans was let go when Evans was arrested on chargers of sexual contact with a minor.
Before Evans, the CdM girls' soccer coach never stayed too long with the program.
"I plan on being there another 25 years; I'll be there until I retire," Middleton said. "At some point we will win a CIF title. I hope this is the year. We have the ability and the talent. Sometimes you just need the ball to bounce your way."