Water Polo: SOCAL into semis at USA Junior Olympics

SANTA ANA — Stephania Haralabidis, who moved to Southern California from Greece last year, still can't always articulate her feelings well in English.

But that doesn't stop the feisty Corona del Mar High graduate, who will play water polo at USC next year, from having things to say.

At the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics, Haralabidis and her twin sister Ioanna are playing for 18-and-under favorite SOCAL Black, along with fellow CdM graduate Cassidy Papa and Newport Harbor High graduates Elissia Schilling and Avery Peterson.

Language barriers aside, Stephania Haralabidis still is able to perfectly express what it's like playing with two athletes from rival Newport Harbor, which was CdM's opponent in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship match last February.

"It's kind of funny," Haralabidis said Saturday. "We hated Newport, and now we love them."

There's a lot to love about SOCAL Black, which features many of the best players from across Orange County. All five Newport-Mesa residents contributed Saturday, helping SOCAL Black defeat Huntington Beach Blue, 14-13, in an 18-and-under platinum division quarterfinal at Foothill High.

SOCAL Black will play Santa Barbara A, which features another Newport Harbor graduate in Carly Christian, in the semifinals at 9:20 a.m. Sunday at Beckman High. It will be a rematch of the U.S. Club Championships title match, which SOCAL won, 10-9, on July 7 at Norco High.

SET meets Huntington Beach Blue in the other 18U platinum semifinal, at 9:20 a.m. Sunday at Foothill High. The JOs championship match has been moved up, and now is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Sunday at UC Irvine.

Papa, last year's Newport-Mesa Co-Player of the Year who is headed to Stanford, said playing on SOCAL has been fun and a nice change of pace.

"We were always with our high school teams, so JOs was never the major goal for us," Papa said. "It was always working into CIF and season. So it's fun to experience all of these summer tournaments, and now JOs is a big deal. We're like, 'Oh, we're top four at JOs, this is so fun.' Who would have thought?"

Stephania Haralabidis scored five goals against Huntington Beach, adding two steals. Schilling, a center headed to UCLA, had two goals, two assists and drew two exclusions. Ioanna Haralabidis also scored twice, as did Papa. Peterson, a defender who is bound for USC, had a pair of assists and also two steals.

SOCAL led just 7-6 late in the second quarter of Saturday's quarterfinal match, but began to pull away. Foothill High's Cana Manzella scored, then Papa added her first goal on a lob from five meters. Papa then fed Schilling for a six-on-five goal with 11 seconds left in the half, giving SOCAL a 10-6 advantage.

The lead grew to 14-8 early in the fourth quarter, when Schilling got a steal at mid-tank and fed Manzella on the counterattack, before Huntington Beach scored the last five goals of the match. The last one, from Jordan Raney, came at the final buzzer.

SOCAL, coached by Andrew Rowe, remains confident headed into the tournament's final day. Papa said no one on the team is cocky, and they are taking it one game at a time.

There's no tension, either. Back Bay high school rivalries have been cast aside.

"It's really fun," Peterson said. "At first, everyone was probably a little hesitant to come together. But once we got to know each other, it was really easy to play as a team and learn everybody's different styles of play."

•In other Junior Olympics action from Saturday:

The CdM Aquatics 18-and-under girls advanced to the semifinals of the gold division after topping Huntington Beach Orange, 6-2. Maddie Musselman had three first-half goals and Heidi Ritner made nine saves for CdM, which will play Riverside in the gold division semifinals at 8 a.m. Sunday at Santa Margarita High. The championship match also is scheduled for the same venue, at 2 p.m.

Newport Water Polo Foundation's 18U girls will play for 13th place in the platinum division. NWPF defeated Santa Clara Valley, 7-5, on Saturday before beating 680 Red in a shootout.

Newport's 18Us play United Red (Mater Dei) in the 13th-place match at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Beckman High. The game is a rematch of one on the tournament's first day, which Newport won, 3-0, behind a career-high 23 saves from goalie Cleo Harrington.

Newport's 16-and-under girls also impressed in the gold division. Newport defeated Xtreme Green, 17-7, before getting past Irvine Kahuna, 12-7. Incoming sophomore Sammie Garcia had five goals in the latter game, while Katie Kearns scored three times. Katherine Yasko and Josie Miller scored twice, and Maddy Kanzler made several nice saves in goal.

In a phone interview, Newport Coach Brian Melstrom said Miller has been an emerging player at center for Newport.

"All in all, I'm happy with where we're at," Melstrom said. "We're playing pretty well as a team."

Newport's 16Us then defeated Conqueror Polo, 10-5, in a quarterfinal match Saturday night at Mission Viejo High. Newport plays International in the semifinals at 9 a.m. Sunday at Fullerton College. International handed Newport its only loss of the tournament so far, 9-6, on Friday.

"We had to work our way back in," Melstrom said. "They're fighting."

Newport Beach Water Polo's 10-and-under co-ed team will play for bronze in the third-place match of the championship division. The Newport 10-and-unders play Trojan for the bronze at 11:45 a.m. Sunday, at Tustin High.

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