Corona del Mar High sophomore Maddie Musselman can't help but notice all of the Olympians helping out with the CdM water polo program.
Olympians Kelly Rulon and CdM alumna Tumua Anae are coaching on the CdM Grey girls' club team for CdM Aquatics. Four-time Olympian Ryan Bailey has been helping out with the CdM boys' program for the last several years.
"I just think that's so cool," Musselman said.
Some people say that Musselman is a future Olympian too. It's not a stretch at all, considering that she made her debut with the U.S. senior national team last December at the Canada Cup and has been participating in national team scrimmages with Coach Adam Krikorian since the high school water polo season ended.
Musselman is already pushing 6-foot tall as a sophomore. Her growth in the sport is just as impressive. And she does not shy away from the Olympian talk, saying she'd love a chance to compete at that level.
"It just motivates me to keep working," she said. "I would love to go to the Olympics, but I'm just going to keep striving for that. It motivates me when I hear that to not give up, just to keep trying for my goals. When I was at Newport Hills swim team, I wanted to go to the Olympics for swimming. Ever since I got into water polo, I was like, 'This is a cool sport to go and experience that.'"
As for high school, Musselman already is one of the top field players in CIF. She proved it this year for the Sea Kings, taking charge for a young team that graduated all but one starter — and lost its coach — from the 2012-13 CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship team.
Along the way Musselman flipped the switch, turning into a dominant offensive player. For her efforts, she is the 2013-14 Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Player of the Year.
The utility player showed her versatility, leading CdM with 81 goals, 48 steals and 18 field blocks. She was second on the team with 34 assists. She helped the Sea Kings score an upset Battle of the Bay win over Newport Harbor and remain consistent, taking third place in each of the regular-season tournaments.
"We did such a great job," Musselman said. "The word 'underdog' has motivated us, just to bring out our secret weapons in the games. We always think, 'We can show everyone else that we are a great team.' We're just going to keep building and building."
The Sea Kings (24-5) won their 15th straight Pacific Coast League title. They did not lose to a team ranked below them until the final game, a memorable sudden-death overtime loss to Santa Barbara in the Division 1 quarterfinals.
Musselman joins her older sister Alex, now at UCLA, who was Newport-Mesa Player of the Year as a goalie three years ago. What Maddie has, CdM Coach Ross Sinclair said, is the ability to make others around her better.
"She's one of the most selfless girls I've ever coached," Sinclair said. "I think in order to be an elite player, you have to think about others before yourself. She was doing that at the beginning of the season by default, because that's just how she is. She was still filling the stat sheet ... she was only shooting three, four times a game but she was leading our team in assists. Teams started to figure out what was going on and were eliminating some of our second and third options, and she was still looking for them when they weren't open."
Sinclair had a talk with Musselman, who became more assertive offensively while still maintaining her elite production in other areas.
"We wouldn't have had the season we had without her," Sinclair said. "There's no one on our team who could fulfill what she does, and to do it at such a young age really says a lot about the type of person she is. She stepped up when needed. The team called for it and she responded, and it's rare that you get that in a high school player. Your number's being called, what are you going to do about it, and she took care of business and then some."
Musselman was the player that other coaches, like Newport Harbor's Bill Barnett, had to game plan for. The Sea Kings still beat the Sailors two out of three times this season. Musselman earned all-tournament team honors at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions and Irvine Southern California Championships.
"She's a really good athlete," Barnett said. "She shoots the ball well, and she's aggressive. You had to account for her, that's for sure ... she's well deserving of Player of the Year."
Musselman said that playing in the Canada Cup really prepared her for the high school season. She also participated in the USA Water Polo Futures 50 Classic last fall. Her team's captain? Yep, Maggie Steffens, yet another Olympian that Musselman said she really looks up to.
Of course, with her height, now people are starting to look up to Maddie Musselman more and more.
"We're always working hard, because Ross has always pushed us to do our best," she said. "Everyone's just enjoying everything. This program's just so great, and the team is so supportive and there for everyone. The season was very enjoyable, and I can't wait for next year, just to do it again."
Here's a look at the other 11 players on the 2013-14 Newport-Mesa Dream Team:
The Sailors' senior team captain and goalie, bound for Harvard, is the only repeat Dream Team selection this year. Last year's Newport-Mesa Co-Player of the Year shared time in the cage this year with Carlee Kapana, a junior, and together they were the consensus top two goalies in CIF. Harrington handled the situation well and also played well in the first halves of games, racking up 166 saves for a Newport Harbor (23-8) team that struggled offensively at times. Harrington was a first-team All-Sunset League and first-team All-CIF Division 1 selection. She was an all-tournament team selection at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions after helping Newport finish second, and shared Most Outstanding Goalie honors at the Irvine Southern California Championships with Kapana.
The junior was easily the top offensive threat for the Mustangs. She led Costa Mesa (9-17) with 95 goals and 45 assists, as the Mustangs finished third in the Orange Coast League and made it back to the Division 1 playoffs. Smith's 95 goals, which led Newport-Mesa players, ranked her tied for third in Costa Mesa single-season annals. Coach Tim Postiff also praised Smith's unselfish nature toward her teammates. Also currently a very talented member of the swim team, look for Smith to have a big senior season next year in water polo.
Corona del Mar
A senior center bound for USC, Coskinas earned the well-deserved nickname of "iron woman" on the team. The lone returning starter from the 2012-13 CIF champion team, Coskinas' work ethic was second to none, and teams had to run zone defenses to try to take her away. Coskinas, a team captain, finished with 46 goals, second on the team, adding 16 steals and 13 assists. She was a first-team All-Pacific Coast League and All-CIF Division 1 selection, as well as an all-tournament team selection at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. Sinclair said Coskinas also drew close to 100 ejections earned.
Kapana, a junior, split time in the cage with senior Cleo Harrington, and together they were considered the two best goalies in CIF. Kapana had the difficult task of coming into the game at halftime every game, yet she tallied 173 saves. A big one came at the very end of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal match against Santa Barbara, helping the Sailors make the Division 1 final for the third straight year. Kapana was a first-team All-Sunset League selection and also earned first-team All-CIF Division 1 honors. She was an all-tournament team selection at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, and shared Most Outstanding Goalie honors at the Irvine Southern California Championships with Harrington.
Corona del Mar
The Sea Kings' sophomore goalie shined in her first year as a varsity starter, improving a lot over last summer and carrying it into the high school season. Showing composure beyond her years, she had 214 saves, including seven games with at least 10 saves or more. She was a first-team All-Pacific Coast League and first-team All-CIF Division 1 selection, and earned all-tournament team honors at the Irvine Southern California Championships after CdM took third place. Ritner and Musselman are two reasons that CdM should be fun to watch for the next two years.
O'Beck changed roles in her senior season, from outside shooter to the team's primary center. She thrived in the role, turning into the team's top offensive threat. O'Beck scored a team-best 66 goals and added 16 steals, and she also played solid two-meter defense at times as well. She was a first-team All-Sunset League selection, and second-team All-CIF Division 1. O'Beck also earned all-tournament team honors at the Irvine Southern California Championships.
Corona del Mar
The senior defender, bound for the University of Michigan, worked her way up through the program during her time at CdM. Mortimer, a team captain who Sinclair credited for her level-headed nature, delivered a standout senior season, tallying 17 goals, 25 assists and 19 steals. Mortimer had one of her better games as CdM upset Newport Harbor, 7-5, in the Battle of the Bay game, scoring a goal from the perimeter and shutting down the Sailors at center. She was a second-team All-Pacific Coast League and third-team All-CIF Division 1 selection.
Fults, a senior driver bound for the University of Hawaii, was a crafty player. She was a very good outside shooter and quick on the counterattack, and also sneaky in the way that she earned plenty of exclusions in transition. Fults scored 50 goals, second on Newport Harbor, and was also second with her 25 steals. She was a second-team All-Sunset League and second-team All-CIF Division 1 selection, and she also earned all-tournament team honors at the Irvine Southern California Championships.
Corona del Mar
A talented and hard-working junior driver, Britt showed her versatility for the Sea Kings. She flew under the radar a bit because she was often as the same side as Musselman, but did it all, finishing with 44 goals, 31 assists and 35 steals. She was third on the Sea Kings in all three categories. Britt earned first-team All-Pacific Coast League and second-team All-CIF Division 1 honors for the Sea Kings, and appears primed for a big year next year as one of the few returning seniors.
Whitelegge was a solid six-on-five shooter for the Tars, but mainly earned a reputation as one of the top defenders in CIF. A very smart player, the junior was always assigned the other team's leading center, yet rarely if ever fouled out of a game. Whitelegge had 24 goals for the Sailors, fifth on the team, and also led the team with 53 steals. She worked with Harrington and Kapana to form a very formidable defense. Whitelegge was a second-team All-Sunset League and third-team All-CIF Division 1 honoree.
Coach Bill Barnett called Pipkin probably the best overall athlete on the Sailors, and it was easy to see why if you watched the versatile junior with a hard shot in the water. She finished with 42 goals, third on the team, and was fourth on the team with 19 steals. Pipkin also developed a reputation as a clutch player. She scored at least three game-winning goals — against Foothill in an early-season nonleague game, against Santa Barbara in a Tournament of Champions quarterfinal and against Santa Barbara again in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal match.