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Girls’ Water Polo: Sea Kings rally into semis

Girls’ Water Polo: Sea Kings rally into semis
(Martin Klein)

CORONA DEL MAR — As she walked off the pool deck at Corona del Mar High on Saturday, freshman Maddie Musselman went past Los Alamitos Coach Dave Carlson.

The Sea Kings had just beaten Carlson’s Griffins, 7-5, in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal match. The longtime Los Al coach wanted to pay Musselman a compliment.

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“Are you the freshman?” Carlson asked Musselman, who replied, “Yeah,” a bit sheepishly.

“You play like a senior,” Carlson said.

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Musselman stepped up with two goals for CdM. Senior Stephania Haralabidis also scored twice and had two nice assists in the fourth quarter, to senior Genevieve Weed and junior Marina Coskinas.

It was a mature effort overall from the Sea Kings (25-4), who rallied to advance to the CIF semifinals for the 14th straight year. No. 3-seeded CdM plays No. 2 Foothill in a semifinal match Wednesday night at Woollett Aquatics Center. Top-seeded Santa Barbara plays No. 4 Newport Harbor in the other semifinal.

Carlson said he thinks that any of the teams left can win the CIF title. Do not count out the Sea Kings, who defeated Los Alamitos (22-7) for the third time this year.

It wasn’t easy. Los Al took a 2-0 lead late in the second quarter, on goals from Cal-bound senior Stephanie Mutafyan and junior Becca Corb. CdM responded with strikes from senior Ally McCormick and Musselman to tie the score.

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CdM Coach Sam Bailey kept yelling, “Patience!,” just before Musselman took her quick shot on a lob from the left. It worked out. CdM assistant coach Erika Figge, grinning while sitting next to Bailey, just patted him on the back.

Mutafyan added a goal from set with nine seconds left in the half to give the Griffins a 3-2 halftime advantage. Carlson said Mutafyan broke her left pinky finger in the first half, but she didn’t tell him until after the game.

Los Al goalie Nikki Quinn had a strong first half, making seven of her 10 saves. But CdM did show patience and also clamped down defensively. The Sea Kings scored the only two goals of the third quarter, both from Haralabidis on assists from Weed and senior Cassidy Papa, to grab a 4-3 lead.

Carlson had seen it before, when CdM rallied to top Los Alamitos, 10-8, in an Irvine Southern California Championships quarterfinal.

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“I was really proud of my team,” Carlson said. “I think that these girls have overachieved all year, more than any team I’ve seen out there … Eventually Corona del Mar, two games in a row, with their backs against the wall, they needed to have girls step up and make plays. Their girls stepped up and made plays in the second half.”

The Sea Kings took a 5-3 lead as Coskinas scored on CdM’s first possession of the fourth quarter. It was a lead the Sea Kings wouldn’t relinquish. They scored again, on Haralabidis’ pass to Genevieve Weed at two meters, for a 6-4 advantage.

“The passes are like the most important part,” said Stephania Haralabidis, who leads CdM with 56 goals. “Giving a pass, you have helped to make that shot possible. When you make the shot yourself, OK, that’s good, but I believe the pass is much, much more important … The first time we came here, the only person I was looking for was my [twin] sister [Ioanna]. But as we went on, as you can see, we play as a team. We don’t play individually, and we always are helping each other.”

Los Al junior Ella Weber cut CdM’s lead in half, skipping in a goal with 3:22 left to play. CdM also killed off a Los Al power play after that, before Coskinas drew an exclusion herself with 1:37 left. The Sea Kings called timeout to set up a play.

“It was solid, balanced effort,” Bailey said. “In that fourth quarter alone, Marina had a goal and drew an ejection that leads to another goal. She’s playing as well as she ever has, and I think that’s attributed largely to her work ethic and her attitude.”

Passes out of the timeout went from Stephania Haralabidis to Papa to Musselman, who skipped in the six-on-five goal from close range with 1:25 left to help ice the game.

“Yeah, freshman,” was the cheer from the CdM bench.

“I was supposed to slide in and shoot low,” Musselman said. “I guess I put it away … [My first CIF run] is kind of scary, but it’s kind of exciting, I guess. I just don’t think about who’s around me. I just play my game.”

Senior goalkeeper Erica Weed made two of her season-high 11 saves in the closing moments, and the Sea Kings were on their way to their third matchup against Foothill this season.

The Knights have won the previous two. They beat CdM, 6-5, in a Holiday Cup semifinal on Dec. 29. Foothill also won an Irvine Southern California Championships semifinal on Feb. 2, 6-5.

“They’re a very good opponent,” Stephania Haralabidis said. “I believe that we just need to concentrate. They hold a lot, their game is to hold and they are fast players. We have to just swim as well. They’re a strong opponent, but we can also do a great job … We really, really want this. I don’t think anybody can stop us when we want something. We’re going to work very hard to win this.”

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo


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