When Corona del Mar High and Paramount meet today, only one boys' soccer team gets the chance to win a second straight CIF Southern Section title.
The Sea Kings won the crown in Division IV last season.
The Pirates are the Division III defending champions.
To get to the Division III title match, CdM has to go through Paramount. Larsen is calling the semifinal match at Paramount at 3 p.m. a heavyweight fight.
After moving up to Division III, which is far more competitive than Division IV, the Sea Kings (16-2-7) have shown they are title contenders. They have been stingy defensively, only allowing two goals in three postseason matches.
You can say the same thing about the defensive effort by fourth-seeded Paramount (16-2-6). But the Pirates appear to be the favorites to move on as they are at home and return plenty of players from last season's championship team.
Larsen has many players back, but the Sea Kings lost three marquee players from the squad that made the historic title run last season. Jack McBean, who signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy last month, just helped the U.S. under-17 national team win the CONCACAF championship in Jamaica. Reed Williams started for the UCLA men's soccer team as a freshman, and Matt Francini is with a club team.
The Sea Kings have not made any excuses. They have just pushed forward, showing they still have an array of talented players.
Junior Mason Case is the team's leading scorer with 19 goals. Jack Gorab plays wherever Larsen needs him, defense or up top, and the junior is one of the top players when it comes to sending balls on set pieces and corner kicks.
The middle is stout with a physical and fast midfielder in Brian Ford, a senior bound for UC Davis. You can find Case at midfield when he is not at forward.
The Sea Kings also received a boost in the middle when Grady Howe returned to the lineup for a 4-2 second-round victory against Santa Ana Valley. Larsen said Howe's back is not bothering the junior as much as it did for much of the season, limiting the Galaxy Academy player to a handful of matches this season.
Junior Greg Allen and junior goalkeeper Connor Gaal lead the defense. Larsen said they would be ready to face a Paramount team that has notched eight goals in three playoffs matches.
Salvador Velazquez leads the Pirates with four postseason goals. The senior forward helped Paramount trounce its last visitor, Cabrillo of Lompoc, 4-1, in the quarterfinals.
The Sea Kings are coming off a 1-0 quarterfinal victory in a wet and windy Santa Maria. Case scored the game-winner, his second in the playoffs.
Around this time last season, Case was dealing with a back injury that sidelined him for almost the entire season. Larsen said Case looks stronger than ever.
The Sea Kings might need more out of Case today.
Larsen said forward Connor Roche injured his right knee in the second half against Santa Maria and came out. The sophomore gives CdM size with his 6-foot frame. If Roche is out, Larsen said it would be a major blow to the offense.
That might be the difference in one team earning a chance to go back-to-back and the other going home. These two teams not only went the furthest of any teams in their respective divisions last season, but also in Southern California.
The Sea Kings won the CIF Southern California Regional Division II title and the Pirates the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title.
After today, only one team's season will continue.