CORONA DEL MAR — Big leads slipped away the last two times the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team played Dos Pueblos of Goleta.
The Sea Kings won both, including the season opener Dec. 7 by a goal. But that wasn't the way they wanted to finish games, nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
So when CdM met Dos Pueblos again Friday in a Holiday Cup quarterfinal, it provided an opportunity.
"I think they had a bit of a chip on their shoulder, wanting to put four quarters together rather than just two," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said. "They had something to prove."
CdM put together a strong effort throughout the game to win, 13-6, at its home pool, advancing to the semifinals. The Sea Kings, ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, will play No. 2 Foothill in the second tournament semifinal, at 11:45 a.m. at Newport Harbor High.
Newport Harbor plays against Santa Barbara in the first tournament semifinal, at 10:40 a.m. at the Sailors' pool.
The championship match is scheduled for 4:05 p.m., also at Newport Harbor.
Corona del Mar (5-0), which blanked Palos Verdes, 12-0, earlier Friday in its first match of the tournament, got off to a strong start against Dos Pueblos. The Sea Kings opened up a 4-0 lead after a quarter on two goals by senior Cassidy Papa, one from sophomore Maddie Musselman on Papa's assist and another strike from senior Ally McCormick.
This time, they were conscious that Dos Pueblos remained dangerous. The Chargers stayed behind by just four, 8-4, at halftime.
"They're a team that I feel like has always been able to [come back] against us," said Papa, who had a match-high six goals. "But we had recognized that, and we were ready for that. The second quarter, you saw it, they scored four goals off of many of our mistakes. After the second quarter, we knew that we just had to put it away. We kind of took individual initiative to play good position defense, while also looking back at Jamie [Neushul]. In the second quarter, I think we were kind of getting caught dropping too many people on her. We really wanted to make sure that we had awareness, but we just needed to play good team defense.
Good defense by CdM senior Genevieve Weed helped keep the Stanford-bound Neushul scoreless. She had scored six goals in the season opener, sparking the Chargers' comeback. Weed had a standout all-around game in Friday's contest with two goals, four steals and three assists.
"Gen just brings that solid water polo on both sides of the pool," Papa said. "You know that you can rely on her to do everything. You can rely on her to play such strong dense, while also promoting the counterattack. Then she has an awesome shot, and she can post up ... it's really nice to have her. She's super-strong in the pool."
CdM pulled away in the third quarter, after a power-play goal by Shannon Cleary of Dos Pueblos again cut the lead to four with 4:43 left in the quarter. Papa and McCormick answered with six-on-five strikes, giving CdM an 11-5 lead headed into the final quarter.
McCormick had three goals and four steals for the Sea Kings. Musselman had two goals and two steals despite battling foul trouble. Senior goalie Erica Weed had to make just one save, though she provided the pass to Papa on CdM's final goal in the fourth quarter.
That last goal, on the counterattack, came directly after a Dos Pueblos six-on-five.
"It's a dagger, to be able to shut down somebody's best scoring opportunity then counter back on an offensive attack," Bailey said.
Cleary led Dos Pueblos (2-3), ranked No. 7 in Division 1, with three goals, and Jordan Williams scored twice.
McCormick led the way with four goals, four assists and three steals in CdM's victory over Palos Verdes. Papa and senior Morgan Stewart added three goals each.
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