Girls' Water Polo: CdM wins Fall Fling

SANTA ANA — Meet the new queens.

Same as the old queens.

That's what the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team is hoping for this winter, coming off capturing its first CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. After graduating six starters, do not use the word "rebuilding" to describe CdM.

"Champion" still fits after Sunday night.

CdM completed a stunning run to the Foothill Fall Fling preseason tournament title, topping Back Bay rival Newport Harbor, 6-5, in the final. Sophomore Maddie Musselman scored the winning goal from outside five meters with 2:32 left in the game, capping a whirlwind day in which Musselman also competed in the USA Water Polo Futures 50 Classic.

Musselman helped "Team Athens" take third place in that tournament, beating "Team Beijing," 13-11 in a shootout. She then hopped in the pool with the Sea Kings, also helping them beat Los Alamitos, 7-4, in the semifinals.

CdM went 6-0 in the Fall Fling. The Sea Kings played the earlier games without Musselman, including a big win over another shorthanded team, Laguna Beach, on Saturday night.

"It's a step in the right direction for us," first-year CdM Coach Ross Sinclair said. "After winning [CIF] last year and losing so many seniors, people were writing us off like maybe we were rebuilding. [But] everyone's believing and buying into it. They're training really hard right now. You know, they're hungry to not roll over and defend the title properly. This is a huge step in that direction.

"They get the experience of playing under the lights for a championship, against a rival. Then getting over the hump and beating them. We've had so many games against them, scrimmages. That's Battle of the Bay for you; it's always a one-goal game no matter what. It's good. I'm happy, but not satisfied."

Sinclair said CdM lost to Newport Harbor, 6-5, in a Monday night league game earlier this fall. They jumped ahead early Sunday night, taking a 3-1 lead after a quarter. Junior Grace Morgan scored CdM's first two goals, then assisted senior Marina Coskinas, who scored on a backhand shot from set.

"People weren't really expecting much from us, because a lot of people graduated," Morgan said. "I think this tournament showed to them that we're still as good as we were last year. We all wanted to win so badly, because Newport is one of our biggest rivals. To play them in the finals again meant a lot to us, so we were all super stoked when we started getting ahead. That definitely fueled our fire, that we'd already lost to them [in a Monday night league game]."

CdM led 4-3 at halftime and 5-4 after three quarters. Junior Rachel Whitelegge tied the score with a quick inside strike with 2:44 left in the game. But 12 seconds later, there was Musselman, who ended her long weekend with the game-winning goal.

"What do you expect, you know?" Sinclair said. "She's awesome. Words don't explain what type of player she is."

Morgan scored three goals for CdM and Coskinas scored twice. Musselman had the winning goal and led all players with seven steals, and goalie Heidi Ritner tallied four saves.

Coskinas, a senior center who has committed to USC, also drew four exclusions for CdM.

"She's playing at a very high level," Sinclair said. "She understands and accepted that, you know, she's our 'Shaq' in the center. She might be taking a beating, but she does so much for us. Our offense works around that, which is great. [Tonight] she's going up against Rachel, who's a top defender. Those two are going to have a fun upcoming season."

Cleo Harrington and Carlee Kapana combined for eight saves for the Sailors in the final. Kapana also rejoined the Sailors after playing in the Futures 50 Classic. Senior Heidi Fults had two goals and three steals for Newport Harbor in the final, while juniors Chanel Schilling and Kate Pipkin also scored.

"It was a good tournament overall," said Whitelegge, who had the goal, four steals and two field blocks in the final. "We didn't have the best ending, but it was a long tournament overall, six games. It was obvious that we were tired. We weren't playing as well as we had earlier in the semis [a 10-6 victory over Santa Barbara] or in the quarters this morning. It wasn't too bad."

Earlier Sunday at Foothill High, "Team London" captured the Futures 50 title, beating "Team Sydney," 9-7, in the title match. USC senior Kaleigh Gilchrist (Newport Harbor High) was part of the winning Team London squad.

Laguna Beach High graduate Annika Dries (Stanford), an Olympian, was named tournament MVP. The Team London team captain netted four goals in the championship match.

"She's Mrs. Clutch," Gilchrist said of Dries. "She definitely pulls through in the end. She's our captain and really played well, and we just kind of fed off of her energy.

"It's awesome to see all of the different backgrounds competing so well. You have Olympians and you have 14-year-olds. We came together pretty well as a team. Even though we only played three days together, we had good communication and a sense of unity, which was pretty cool."

Musselman had a goal, two steals and drew a penalty shot in the Futures 50 third-place match. She also scored a goal in the shootout. Kapana made seven saves in the second half of the game for Team Beijing.

Musselman, who made a game-saving field block with the goalie excluded in Friday night's tournament opener for Team Athens, said the weekend was great for her. Being around Olympians seemed to make an impression on her.

"I can improve on becoming a leader," she said. "Even though I'm young, I know that I can talk to my teammates and tell them what they can help me with, or just ask them questions. I can go back to high school and become more of a leader. Sometimes I step down from that and just play."

Her leadership qualities were evident against the Sailors.

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