LONG BEACH — With 13 seniors and one junior on his roster, maturity is not a problem for Corona del Mar High boys' water polo coach Barry O'Dea.
After watching his Sea Kings lose a 16-15 back-and-forth contest to Long Beach Wilson on Tuesday at Belmont Plaza, O'Dea talked about needing to get better defensively.
But it was not an angry observation, just a matter-of-fact one.
"They just need to figure out what their priorities are in a game," O'Dea said. "Is it offense and scoring goals, or are we going to put a little more effort into playing some defense? And they're smart enough; that's where I trust them. There's a lot more trust on my part, with this senior group. They'll figure it out. I'm not concerned about it, to be honest with you, right now."
The one-goal game was not a surprise. The Sea Kings' first two meetings with the Bruins last year went to overtime, and the last one was a 7-6 Wilson win in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship game.
Now both programs are back up in Division 1. CdM came into the game ranked No. 5, with Wilson right behind at No. 6. Both teams certainly appear to be potent offensively.
They traded blows in the first half Tuesday, neither team leading by more than a goal in the first half. But Wilson (2-1) got some separation in the third quarter. Murphy Slater scored twice in a three-goal run that pushed the Wilson lead to 12-9 midway through the quarter.
True to a team with all of those seniors, CdM (1-1) did not panic. They actually got a key call in their favor when senior Reid Chase drew Irving's second kick-out at two meters. Irving was then ruled to have interfered with the ball before swimming out, which meant he fouled out of the game.
"The ball hit him in the head!" Wilson Coach Tony Martinho said to a referee, protesting the loss of one of his best players.
CdM took the momentum. Chase, who had a game-high six goals, scored on the ensuing penalty shot. Then Jack Harryman scored on a power-play to pull CdM back within 12-11, where the Wilson lead stood after three quarters.
But Wilson senior Jackson Kimbell scored on a penalty shot early in the fourth quarter, then Slater, a junior who had a team-high five goals, skipped in a shot from seven meters. Suddenly, the Bruins had their cushion back.
"Murphy's got an unbelievable arm," Martinho said. "If you allow him to shoot the ball, he's going to shoot it. They gave him a couple of good looks today, probably more than they would have wanted to, and he did a great job ... I was really happy with our energy in the second half."
The Wilson lead was 16-12 after another six-on-five goal with 2:33 left, but the Sea Kings again rallied. Ty Hack scored on a power move, then Harryman scored on a counter with 1:59 left to cut the lead to 16-14. Danny Marshall got a steal at two meters, and CdM soon got itself into a six-on-five situation.
But the shot went off the left bar, and Martinho called a quick timeout with 1:01. Now it was O'Dea's turn to protest, as he said the Bruins didn't appear to have possession yet when calling the timeout.
"I saw the ball moving around," O'Dea said. "When [the referee] finally blew the whistle, the ball was sitting on the lane line. It doesn't really matter; whatever. They called a pretty consistent game."
Wilson wasted time, dumping the ball with 31 seconds left. Marshall fired in his third goal with 22 seconds left, but the Bruins were able to hold onto the ball until the final buzzer for the one-goal win.
Harryman matched Marshall with three goals, and center Armen Mavusi scored twice in the first half. Senior goalie Patrick McKenzie made 11 saves, including several big ones on Wilson counterattack opportunities in the third quarter to help keep CdM in the game. Jake Wyatt also had two steals while playing in his first game of the season, as he was on a recruiting trip at MIT last weekend, and Kyle Trush had two assists.
Chase, who O'Dea said was also on a trip to Harvard last weekend, has 13 goals in CdM's first two games. Three of his on Tuesday came via the penalty shot.
Both teams now prepare for the South Coast Tournament, which begins Thursday. CdM, in Group D, has a potential quarterfinal matchup with Los Alamitos on Friday, while Wilson could play top-seeded defending champion Mater Dei in Group A.
"I think that whole top six or seven is a lot closer than what people were thinking it was going to be," O'Dea said. "I think you've got two really stacked brackets in the South Coast, the A bracket and the D bracket, the ones that are going to have to cross over with each other."
This weekend will feature more big games, in a season that seems like it will have no shortage of those.
"I think we're in for a wild year," Martinho said. "I think there's a lot of good teams out there. The level of water polo just seems to keep elevating, across the board."