Daily Pilot Girls' Water Polo Dream Team: Papa, Harrington led way

When Newport Harbor High hosted a men's water polo pre-Olympic showcase last May, the pool deck was absolutely packed.

Many felt that it was an appropriate place to watch some world-class water polo. One of those people was former Corona del Mar and current Stanford men's coach John Vargas.

"Orange County, specifically Newport Beach, is the mecca of water polo in the United States," Vargas said to the Daily Pilot at the time. "You should expect something like this to happen here."

The point was again proven this past winter. What happened in Newport Beach was simply remarkable. The CdM and Newport Harbor girls' water polo teams had their ups and downs, yet they somehow ended up meeting in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match for the second straight year.

Stanford-bound CdM senior Cassidy Papa was a co-captain and natural leader for the Sea Kings. Her passion and guidance for her team ended up paying off big-time on that night in late February at Woollett Aquatics Center, as she helped CdM brush off a series of title-match disappointments and win its first Division 1 title over Newport, 6-5.

It wasn't easy to dethrone the Sailors. They played with a lot of confidence at the end of the season as well, including a huge win over top-seeded Santa Barbara in the semifinals. A big part of that was their junior goalie, Cleo Harrington. If she wasn't the top goalie in CIF, she was certainly in the discussion, and she consistently raised her level of play in the most important games.

The Sea Kings and Sailors couldn't share the Division 1 title. But because of their skill and leadership, Papa and Harrington share the Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year award for 2012-13.

For Papa, a four-year varsity starter, it was an interesting season. With the Sea Kings adding transfers Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis from Greece, she saw her scoring drop to 51 goals. Yet the Pacific Coast League and Division 1 MVP always found a way to make a difference. She dished out a team-best 53 assists and added 31 steals. She guarded at two meters when she had to do so. And her vocal leadership in the water was never in question. When she missed two games at the start of the season, it was because she was playing for Team USA at the FINA Youth World Championships in Australia, where Papa also was a team captain.

CdM Coach Sam Bailey, who has since left the program to coach and teach at Beckman, praised Papa's work ethic as perhaps greater than anyone he'd ever coached. She always did everything she could to put her team in the best position to win, despite questions from outsiders — and at times from Bailey himself — about how the Sea Kings (27-4) could mesh together.

"I knew that there were so many threats on our team," said Papa, an all-tournament team selection at the Irvine Southern California Championships. "No matter what, Steph and Io were going to put themselves in a position to score. That's how they play, and I needed to be able to find them more often. I was there for whatever the team needed.

"We knew that we had the skills and the talent. It was the mental game ... we kind of realized that we weren't going to be able to win on talent alone."

Harrington's talent was also immense for the Sailors (24-7). A first-team All-Sunset League and second-team All-CIF selection, she led Orange County Division 1 goalies with her 295 saves. Fourteen came in a victory over Los Alamitos that helped the Sailors clinch the Sunset League title. Thirteen more saves came in the Division 1 semifinal win over Santa Barbara, snapping the Dons' 19-match winning streak. She was the backbone of Coach Bill Barnett's defense, which is how the Sailors won so many of their games without a deep roster.

After the league victory over the Griffins, Los Al Coach Dave Carlson marveled at "five or six incredible saves" that Harrington made.

"The thing I noticed about her is that she seems to play her best in the biggest games," Carlson said.

Harrington admitted that she had a bit of a slow start to the season. But you certainly couldn't say that about her play in February, when it mattered the most.

"I felt very flattered when [Carlson] said those things," Harrington said. "I think it's just a matter of focus ... I use the crowd and announcer and everything to help pump me up, but I don't let myself get distracted by it. Once the game's going and I'm playing, I can't hear anything. I can't hear the crowd. I can't hear my parents yelling. The only thing I hear is the refs and 'Coach B' and my teammates. I know if I just focus on the ball and where it's going, I'll do my best to stop it.

"I think we definitely proved ourselves throughout the season. We grew together a lot as a team."

After another banner year in Newport-Mesa, the rest of the Dream Team is also stacked with talent. It's a deep and experienced group, as nine of the 13 selections were on the team last year as well.

Here's a look at the other 11 members of the 2012-13 team:

Ally McCormick

Corona del Mar

A gifted athlete who is going to BYU for swimming, McCormick had another great year for the Sea Kings. She combined with fellow lefty Stephania Haralabidis to form a lethal shooting duo on the right side. McCormick, a first-team All-Pacific Coast League and second-team All-CIF selection, was second on CdM with 57 goals, adding 29 assists and 36 steals.

McCormick, a three-time Dream Team honoree, also had a remarkable Division 1 title match against Newport Harbor. In her last competitive water polo game, she matched a season-high with four goals, two on the counterattack and two on six-on-five.

Carly Christian

Newport Harbor

Christian, a co-captain headed to UC Santa Barbara, was the Sailors' most consistent scoring threat and a lock to win most quarter-opening sprints. She was able to use her speed on offense and also helping on defense. The attacker led Newport with 73 goals, adding 19 assists and a team-best 57 steals. She was the Sunset League Player of the Year and a first-team All-CIF Division 1 selection.

Christian also earned all-tournament team laurels at both the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions and Irvine SoCal Championships.

Kellie Thorsness

Costa Mesa

Thorsness was the center of attention for opponents at two meters, but she had a big senior year for the Mustangs (17-9). A co-captain, she led the team with 96 goals, which placed her second in program history for a single season. She also had 26 steals, helping Costa Mesa finish second in league and return to the Division 1 playoffs.

Thorsness was a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection. This is also her second straight Dream Team selection.

Ilene Umansky


The senior just kept scoring and scoring for the Eagles, notching an area-best 110 goals, fourth in Orange County and second in program history behind her 119 goals a season ago. It paid off at the end for Estancia, which finished tied for third in league. Umansky then helped the Eagles win two third-place playoff games, against Godinez and Saddleback, in order to return to the Division 1 playoffs.

Umansky, a first-team All-Orange Coast League selection, is on the Dream Team for the second straight year.

Stephania Haralabidis

Corona del Mar

Haralabidis, a transfer from Greece, was able to do just about everything for the Sea Kings after she and her sister became eligible to play in January. Despite missing CdM's first seven games, the USC-bound Stephania led the team with 60 goals. She added 23 assists, and her 50 steals tied the feisty lefty for the team lead.

Haralabidis was a first-team All-Pacific Coast League and first-team All-CIF Division 1 selection.

Elissia Schilling

Newport Harbor

Schilling, a co-captain for the Sailors, again proved that she was one of the top centers in CIF. She was known for her backhand shot, but also was a very smart and well-rounded player in the water. The UCLA-bound Schilling had 47 goals, 20 assists and 45 steals for Newport Harbor.

Like her co-captain Christian, Schilling was all-tournament at both the Santa Barbara and Irvine tournaments. She was a first-team All-Sunset League and first-team All-CIF Division 1 selection. This is her second straight Dream Team selection.

Aubry Hill

Costa Mesa

Hill, a co-captain for Costa Mesa, was known for her resiliency and toughness. She improved all facets of her game in her senior year, on her way to 65 goals, a team-best 26 assists and 51 steals.

Hill had one of her best games against rival Estancia, when she shined defensively. She earned first-team All-Orange Coast League honors, and this is her second straight Dream Team selection.

Ioanna Haralabidis

Corona del Mar

The USC-bound Ioanna was perhaps the Sea Kings' most consistent player at the end of the season as they made their CIF push. She scored the game-winning goal in CdM's come-from-behind victory over Foothill in the CIF semifinals. She also stepped up defensively as the season went on, becoming a very effective set guard with her physical defense.

She tallied 43 goals, 17 assists and 30 steals on her way to first-team All-Pacific Coast League and first-team All-CIF Division 1 honors. Ioanna also collected all-tournament team honors at both the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions and Irvine Southern California Championships.

Avery Peterson

Newport Harbor

Peterson was not officially a team captain for the Sailors, but the senior defender surely was a leader. Like her older sister Allyssa, who earned Dream Team honors in 2007, Avery was one of the top defenders in CIF. Bound for USC, she finished with 30 goals, a team-best 22 assists and 47 steals.

She was a first-team all-league and second-team All-CIF selection, and this is her second straight Dream Team selection as well.

Erica Weed

Corona del Mar

Playing on a team full of speed, the senior goalkeeper, a first-year starter, helped facilitate the Sea Kings' devastating counterattack. But Weed, a co-captain, also upped her level of play at the end of the season when her team needed it most.

Weed, who finished the season with 187 saves, was a second-team All-Pacific Coast League and third-team All-CIF honoree.

Carolyn Smith

Newport Harbor

Smith, also a very talented junior sailor, was not even a starter for the girls' water polo team at the start of the season. But the senior attacker made the most of her playing time soon after that. She stepped up in the middle of the season with Christian out, helping lead the Sailors to key nonleague victories at Laguna Beach and Santa Margarita.

Smith finished fourth on Newport Harbor with 40 goals, adding 13 assists and 19 steals. She earned second-team All-Sunset League honors.


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