SANTA ANA — The defensive effort was obvious, as the Costa Mesa High girls' water polo team pitched a shutout late into the fourth quarter Wednesday night.
But as the season enters the home stretch, there were other areas where Coach Tim Postiff saw room for improvement after his team's 10-2 Orange Coast League victory over Godinez at Santa Ana Valley High.
Costa Mesa (14-8, 2-1 in league) had to work for everything it got offensively. And the Mustangs were just two for five on their power play.
Part of the kudos for that had to go to Godinez, which fell to 11-14, 0-2.
"We couldn't get anything going offensively on a consistent basis," Postiff said. "Last week [in a 20-4 win over Estancia] our defense led to some counter goals and quick offense, and we couldn't get that established today at all. It was just a grind the whole game, and that's a credit to [Godinez]. They didn't allow us to get out in transition. They got up in the lanes fast."
The Mustangs still now sit in second place in the five-team league. They can clinch second place outright by topping Saddleback at home on Jan. 30 in their league finale.
Senior Kellie Thorsness had a game-high four goals Wednesday for Costa Mesa, and she also had four steals. Senior defender Aubry Hill had two goals and seven steals. Junior Devon Christensen (four steals), sophomores Melissa Folkerts and Lauren Smith and senior Ashley Tfaye all added goals for the Mustangs.
Tfaye and Thorsness drew two exclusions each, and Hill also drew an exclusion and a five-meter penalty shot.
Tfaye, Hill and Thorsness (six-on-five drawn by Smith) scored in the first quarter for Costa Mesa.
Junior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Hill had to make just two saves for Mesa, which led, 6-0, at halftime. The lead reached 10-0 in the fourth quarter, when Aubry Hill scored on the counterattack.
"We've been practicing things, what to do and not to do, so I think that helped a lot," Tfaye said. "They were pretty grabby, but I think we did a good job of keeping up with them. I wasn't expecting as physical [a game], I was thinking a little bit more mellow, but it was good defense to keep up with.
"The chemistry we have now really helps a lot in the game. We make eye contact with each other off the counter; the bonds that we've made so far really help. We've been trying a couple of new drives when we're on offense too, and I think a lot of the things we're trying this year are really working. We're doing a lot better than I expected."
Colleen Sloan and Kimberly Ramirez scored in the fourth quarter for the Grizzlies. Aliyah Nunez had five steals, and goalie Aylin Castro made four saves.
Costa Mesa faces a challenge in its next two nonleague games. The Mustangs play host to Huntington Beach on Friday and Edison on Saturday. Edison is ranked No. 8 in CIF Southern Section Division 1.
"It's going to be a good test for us," Postiff said. "It'll be interesting to see how well we do against that competition. We are in D1, and those are two schools from the Sunset League. It'll give us a look at where we stand, in regards to a lot of the other teams in Division 1."
Tfaye agreed with her coach.
"I know they're going to be a little bit faster than us, but we've been working really hard in practice and trying to get our speed up," she said. "If we come out like we did for our Estancia game and the way we played today, we can hopefully keep up with them and maybe win.
"We're always ready for a challenge," she added.