Papa inspirational for CdM

Sam Bailey pulled the book from his office desk Tuesday afternoon, looking for a specific passage.

The book? "The Team Captain's Leadership Manual," by Jeff Janssen.

The player who the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo coach felt the passage so aptly described? Senior co-captain Cassidy Papa.

"No matter what obstacles, adversities or distractions might stand in their way, compelled people are going to find a way," Bailey read out loud. "They won't rest until they get the job done. They prepare, train and compete at the highest level. This means they never go through the motions or skip workouts. They eat well and get the proper rest, and they take advantage of every opportunity to get better. Compelled people do not only have high expectations of themselves, but of their teammates too. They hold themselves and their teammates to a higher standard."

Bailey looked up from the book.

"And that's Cassidy," he said.

The Stanford-bound Papa is a supremely talented water polo player. She is a four-year varsity starter in one of the most fiercely competitive prep programs in the nation. Not only is she a team captain for CdM, but she was a team captain for the U.S. women's youth national team at December's FINA Youth World Championships. Papa helped lead Team USA to a fourth-place finish in Perth, Australia at the inaugural event.

Her leadership qualities are immense for the Sea Kings (23-4). Just watch one of their games and it's obvious. She is the one who always is communicating with her teammates in the water, telling them where to pass the ball or reminding them not to trade goals with the opponent.

"I definitely take [being a team captain] seriously," Papa said. "I'm in charge of getting me and my teammates ready. I know they can rely on me during the game to do things and play well, but I also need to make sure the team's morale and everything is just together. I just like to be the glue in the pool and keep everyone happy. It's a lot more responsibility than I was expecting ... [but] it's an honor and it's been a really cool experience. I'm just trying to make my team as [good] as we can [be], rather than just looking to improve myself."

She is tied for second on the squad with 48 goals, but has the all-around package. She is a strong defender, and it's not surprising that Papa leads CdM with 44 assists. But, after all that has been written about her in her four-year career, it is surprising that this is the first time she has earned the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week honor.

Papa made the choice easy after last weekend's Irvine Southern California Championships. Papa broke out of a mini-shooting slump in the third-place match, scoring five goals in a 9-7 victory over rival Newport Harbor. It might have been one of the best games of the all-tournament team selection's prep career. She also had two assists and three steals.

The third-place finish was CdM's best in the season's three tournaments. Papa feels that the Sea Kings have momentum headed into the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.

She gets a lot of the credit. Corona del Mar finally seems to be meshing together, after its USC-bound Greek transfers, Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis, became eligible to play Jan. 1.

"Before we got the Greeks, we were the underdogs," Papa said. "After we got the Greeks, we were the team that everybody was saying was the team to beat. I think we obviously showed that we're not perfect, but I think we truly have shown that we have grown as a team throughout this whole season. I think this tournament proved that we have made progress."

Papa has proved that she will do whatever it takes to win. Bailey said he can't think of an athlete he's coached who has been more driven. In preparing for Australia, there were the tough swim sets that she had to do in late summer, in addition to CdM's offseason program.

She got very lean. In the process, she set an example for her teammates.

"She's got a work ethic and a drive that's unlike anything most coaches would ever see in an entire career," Bailey said. "I don't know anybody who pushes themselves as hard as she does. It's unreal."

Ask anyone on the CdM pool deck about that work ethic. Even the Sea Kings' other co-captain, senior goalkeeper Erica Weed, said she considers Papa a role model.

"She is completely dedicated to water polo," Weed said. "She's always the first one in the pool, and the last one out of the pool. She's always working her hardest, and I totally respect for. She's a role model to me, just the way she loves water polo. She's always trying to improve. It's really cool."

Papa has been driven ever since she started playing water polo at 8 years old. She said she played soccer growing up as well, but she thought she could swim better than she could run.

Her older brother Justin, who played polo at CdM (class of 2010) and now at UC Irvine, was a role model for Cassidy. Now her younger brother Shane, a sixth-grader, also plays club polo for Anteater.

Cassidy Papa has been a rising star ever since getting to CdM, where she started as a freshman in former Coach Aaron Chaney's final season. Her sophomore year she burst onto the scene, scoring 56 goals and dishing out 45 assists. She is a two-time Newport-Mesa Dream Team selection, soon to be three-time.

"There was a lot of pressure last year," she said. "My freshman and even my sophomore year, I feel like I was depended on to be a solid player in the pool. Last year, I was more depended on to make things happen and score goals. I definitely felt the pressure, but nothing that was too much. I still knew that I needed to play my game. If anything, it helped me become a more dynamic player."

But 2012 ended extremely tough for Papa and the Sea Kings. CdM, with a very strong senior class featuring goalie Alex Musselman (now at UCLA), center Diana Murphy (Princeton), utility Pippa Saunders (Cal) and defender Victoria Pierotti (Brown), expected to win the Division 1 title. The Sea Kings were one quarter away, before Newport Harbor rallied for an 8-7 victory in the title match.

Watch the video and there is the always intense Papa after the game, crying her eyes out on the cold pool deck at Woollett Aquatics Center.

"I'm super-competitive and I hate losing, and I think that mixed with the feelings that this team is never going to be this team again," she said. "I think it was just a mental breakdown, for sure, after the game. It was not a pretty sight. I didn't have any regrets, but I think it was more the fact that it was just over. And we were winning [the game] ... it was an emotional roller coaster."

Papa said she would give anything to get back to that title game. It has not been kind to CdM, which has been to at least the CIF semifinals for 13 straight years. But the Sea Kings have not won a Division 1 title since being moved up in 2006-07. They've lost in the finals three times in that span, twice to rival Newport Harbor and every time by a single goal.

"To be the first ones would be pretty cool, first Division 1 champions," Papa said. "It would be nice to finally get one, finally prove that we're CdM and we can finish it out."

She believes her team has the talent to do it. That talent starts with Papa, the young woman in the No. 14 cap. It extends to the classroom, where she said she had a 4.2 grade-point average after her junior year.

"I think it's more just my competitiveness," she said. "I don't like to fail. I like to push myself."

People notice.

Now that's a team captain.


Cassidy Papa

Born: Sept. 13, 1994

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-7 1/2

Sport: Water polo

Coach: Sam Bailey

Favorite food: Juices from Nekter Juice Bar

Favorite movie: "Pitch Perfect"

Favorite athletic moment: Playing in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship match last year.

Week in review: Papa scored five goals to help CdM defeat Newport Harbor, 9-7, in the third-place match of the Irvine Southern California Championships on Feb. 2. She was an all-tournament team selection.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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