A young Costa Mesa High girls' water polo team is even younger right now.
The Mustangs have both of their senior starters out due to injury. The inexperience showed Wednesday night in the Lil' Pickle Classic tournament that Costa Mesa hosts each year.
The Mustangs fell to Tesoro, 15-2, at their home pool after beating Etiwanda, 6-2, in their tournament opener.
Costa Mesa (6-7) finished second in Pool B of the 15-team tournament. Coach Tim Postiff's club will play in a fifth-place semifinal match at 11 a.m. Saturday, back at Costa Mesa.
Tesoro jumped on the hosts early, building an 8-0 halftime lead that jumped to 12-0 after three quarters.
Emma Peterson led Tesoro with seven goals, including the first five of the game. She was taken out with the visitors comfortably ahead, 10-0, early in the third quarter.
"We just don't handle pressure very well right now," Postiff said. "That affects a lot of what we can do offensively, when we can't move the ball."
Mesa junior Lauren Smith scored both of her team's goals, early in the fourth quarter. Smith has had to step up, as Postiff said seniors Devon Christensen (fractured rib) and Jenesa Ramirez (sprained elbow) are out of action. A third starter, junior Kirsten Gyorgy, is on vacation.
Smith had scored eight goals in Tuesday's 12-10 nonleague win over Tustin.
"She's been a starter, but I think now she's in a position where she needs to establish herself as a leader on the team," Postiff said. "In the past, there were seniors that were capable of doing that. With our two seniors injured [this year], she's working her way into that role."
More players did contribute in the tournament-opening win over Etiwanda. The Mustangs finished that game strong, scoring four unanswered goals in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore center Cassandra Stevens led Mesa with two goals, while Smith, fellow juniors Melissa Folkerts and Bridgette Smitheram, as well as sophomore Tia Gordon, scored one goal each. Junior keeper Antonia Velasquez made six saves.
Smith, a three-year starter who led everyone in the Etiwanda game with six steals, said she likes having the opportunity to lead the Mustangs. But she also wants to get her teammates more involved.
"I don't want to be just the main offensive girl," Smith said. "I want everyone to step up so that we're a strong team and not just a strong few individuals."
Though the Mustangs are young, they hope to build up momentum in time for the Orange Coast League season, which begins Jan. 15 against rival Estancia.
Smith said the squad has shown flashes of good team play, like in an 11-9 comeback victory over Long Beach Millikan earlier this season.
"Once we mesh as a team and we really come into our own, we'll definitely move up a level," she said. "We have the potential."