TOC again loaded

Sure, the drive up Highway 101 is scenic, but this weekend's prestigious Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions girls' water polo tournament is far from a vacation.

Fifteen of the 16 teams entered are ranked in CIF Southern Section Division 1 or Division 2.

For Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor, the tournament provides a chance to move up in the Division 1 rankings. CdM is ranked No. 3, and Newport No. 4, behind Foothill and Laguna Beach. But if the seedings hold, it will be the Back Bay teams meeting in the tournament semifinals on Saturday.

Second-seeded Corona del Mar (8-2) opens its tournament with games Friday at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta. The Sea Kings play host to Dos Pueblos in their Group B opener at 12:30 p.m. The Chargers are ranked No. 9 in Division 1.

A win, and the Sea Kings would face Mater Dei or Murrieta Valley in a tournament quarterfinal at 5:30 p.m. Mater Dei is the No. 2-ranked team in Division 2, followed by Murrieta Valley at No. 3.

CdM senior defender Annie Mortimer said that the Sea Kings will be motivated after losing to Foothill, 12-9, in a nonleague game last week. The loss came just four days after the Sea Kings beat the Knights, also by a three-goal margin, in the Holiday Cup third-place game.

"We know not to get too comfortable," said Mortimer, bound for the University of Michigan. "We have to respect everyone that comes at us. I think the loss against Foothill has kind of lit a fire for us again. We maybe got a little too comfortable going into that game."

The in-season tournaments are crucial for CdM, which does not have as many tough nonleague games due to having to play each Pacific Coast League opponent twice. Sophomore Maddie Musselman paced the Sea Kings with 25 goals this season through Wednesday.

The Sea Kings are going for their fourth TOC title; they last won the tournament in 2012.

"It raises the intensity of our team," Mortimer said of having such tough competition in Santa Barbara. "We're going to have to do the little things right to win those one-goal games."

Third-seeded Newport Harbor (10-2) also has a tough road to the championship. The Sailors open their tournament in Group C, against El Toro at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Santa Barbara High. The Chargers are ranked No. 6 in Division 2. The teams have already met this season, as the Sailors pulled away for a 10-5 nonleague win on Dec. 28.

If the Sailors beat El Toro, they would face either Santa Barbara or Montebello in a tournament quarterfinal at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Santa Barbara High. The Dons are ranked No. 6 in Division 1, and Montebello is ranked No. 5 in Division 2.

A Newport Harbor-Santa Barbara matchup would be a rematch of last year's TOC title game, won by the hosts. Newport Harbor has never won the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions in program history, finishing runner-up eight times.

"We only have four games, but to say the least, all four of them are going to be really close," said Newport senior Christina O'Beck, who leads the Sailors with 25 goals this season. "[Playing the top Division 1 teams] is just a toss-up of who shows up to play that given day. But then again, you can't underestimate any of the Division 2 teams either."

The Sailors are ranked No. 4 in Division 1, despite beating top-ranked Foothill twice already this season. But Newport Harbor also has lost games against No. 2 Laguna Beach and No. 3 CdM. The Breakers beat the Sailors, 11-8, in the Holiday Cup championship game, while CdM beat Newport Harbor, 7-5, in the Battle of the Bay.

"A lot of us, if not all of us, we're kind of almost mad at the [rankings]," O'Beck said. "We feel like Battle of the Bay is keeping us down there [at No. 4] ... Our goal this weekend is to put ourselves in a position where we can be higher than fourth."

Tournament semifinal matches are scheduled for 11:10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Santa Barbara High. The championship match is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. Saturday, also at Santa Barbara.

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