Girls' Water Polo: CdM finishes strong

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — The regular season really was anything but regular for the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team.

The Sea Kings were ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 to start the year, and they opened in December with big wins on the road at Dos Pueblos and Santa Barbara while missing three senior starters.

Some called them the team to beat. But they struggled to find consistency in January, after their Greek transfers, Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis, were cleared to play. CdM didn't make the championship match of any of the three in-season tournaments.

But now we're in February, and nobody wants to play CdM in the Division 1 playoffs.

In fact, CdM Coach Sam Bailey made a declaration after his team's 11-7 nonleague victory at Santa Margarita on Thursday that should make opponents nervous.

"If ever this team is running on all cylinders, it's right now," Bailey said.

The Sea Kings (23-4), the Pacific Coast League champions, await the release of the CIF playoff brackets Sunday morning. They likely will be seeded No. 3 or 4, and it doesn't appear that they will be an easy out.

They used a strong second quarter to seize control against the Eagles (21-6), the Trinity League champions who are ranked No. 2 in Division 2. First it was freshman Maddie Musselman scoring a six-on-five goal, the exclusion drawn by senior Cassidy Papa. Then Ioanna Haralabidis scored from outside to boost CdM's lead to 4-1.

After Santa Margarita's Morgan Martinez scored on a power play, Papa took junior Marina Coskinas' pass and scored a lob from the outside.

CdM added two more goals in the final two minutes of the half. Coskinas drew a penalty shot that Papa converted. Then, with 21 seconds left, Stephania Haralabidis scored on Ally McCormick's pass.

It was a five-goal quarter for the Sea Kings, who took a 7-3 lead into halftime and never looked back. They built the lead as large as six goals, when McCormick's strike with 5:04 left in the game made the score 11-5.

"I think that it's really nice that they're playing with a lot of energy at the right time," Bailey said. "They're trusting each other more than they ever have before, they're understanding each other's strengths and seeing the various openings and gaps."

Ioanna Haralabidis had three goals for CdM, while McCormick, Papa and Stephania Haralabidis each scored twice. Musselman and Coskinas added single goals, and Coskinas and the Haralabidis sisters tallied two steals each.

CdM also got a standout game from senior co-captain Erica Weed, who made 11 saves. Bailey said his goalie is playing at the top of her game right now.

"She's a rock," he said. "She's a strong, positive force for us."

Weed also had two assists in the first quarter, on counterattack goals by McCormick and Ioanna Haralabidis.

"I thought it was a good example of how much our team has been working together and has improved," Weed said. "We've definitely come together. We've done a lot of team bonding stuff and definitely come together as friends."

Junior Haley Wan scored four goals and had five steals for Santa Margarita. But the Sea Kings held Cal-bound senior center Emily Loughlin scoreless for the first time this season. Loughlin, who is on the U.S. Youth National team and played with Papa at the FINA Youth World Championships in December in Australia, did draw two exclusions for the Eagles.

Musselman played effective defense on Loughlin at times in the second half.

"Honestly, we're comfortable with anybody defending," Bailey said. "It wasn't necessarily a matchup that we put together, but the fact that Maddie is capable of showcasing her skills right there is great. It's outstanding for her confidence and the confidence of her teammates. Some might say Emily is the best center in high school right now, in the nation."

The best high school team in Division 1? That won't be known until the title match Feb. 23, at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. But don't count out the Sea Kings.

"I think everybody's ready [for CIF]," Bailey said. "Everybody's excited. It's amazing how long the season has been, but how fast it has gone."

The regular season is over. Now the fun really begins.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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