By Matt Szabo
9:55 PM PST, November 7, 2012
CORONA DEL MAR — The Corona del Mar High boys' water polo team has been swimming a longer course in practice this week.
"We've been swimming 30 meters all week," senior Reid Chase said Wednesday night. "We're in the best shape of our lives right now; we're just swimming really well."
CdM assistant coach Ryan Bailey, the former UC Irvine All-American and a four-time Olympian, chimed in as he sat nearby.
"Don't give away our secrets," Bailey said to Chase.
The Sea Kings are not a secret to the other teams in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. Coach Barry O'Dea's players feel like they are playing their best water polo at the end of the season.
That continued Wednesday, as CdM topped San Clemente, 12-6, in a first-round match at CdM.
"I think we did an awesome job on our transition defense," O'Dea said. "They were swimming really well. They looked great on defense, and I thought they were moving well in the water. We put a good two weeks of training in, getting ready for this. It might be the best we've looked, moving-wise, all season."
The next match should be closer, and the opponent will be more familiar. Corona del Mar plays host to No. 4-seeded Newport Harbor in a Back Bay quarterfinal on Saturday. O'Dea said the start time may be changed from 5 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The teams have split their previous two meetings. When they played at CdM on Oct. 20 in the Battle of the Bay, Newport Harbor hung on for a 9-7 victory.
CdM (22-6) has reeled off eight straight wins since then.
"We're sharing the ball really well right now," Chase said. "In practice, we're working on the extra pass. No one's selfish right now. We're playing for each other."
It was easy to see against San Clemente (17-12), the third-place team from the South Coast League. The Tritons, who defeated Long Beach Millikan, 18-8, in a wild-card game Tuesday, have been a dangerous team lately. They shocked El Toro in league, and lost to Dana Hills by just a goal.
But the Pacific Coast League champion Sea Kings jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first quarter in this match. Armen Mavusi, Chase and Jake Wyatt all scored in the quarter. Wyatt assisted Mavusi and Chase's goals on the counterattack.
"I think our hard press at the start of the game kind of shell-shocked them in a way," said Wyatt, who scored a goal, tied a season-high with six assists and added two steals.
The Sea Kings scored twice in the final minute of the first half, as Brendan Fisher and Matt Sherburne found the back of the net to open up a 7-3 lead.
San Clemente did not go away, even after Mavusi scored again to make it 9-4 early in the fourth quarter. The Tritons scored twice in 21 seconds to narrow their deficit. First senior Robby Stiefel scored from the outside, then senior Derek Cousineau scored on a counter. Stiefel and Cousineau, along with sophomore Chase Hamming, each scored two goals for San Clemente.
But CdM responded. The Sea Kings scored the last three goals of the game, two by Colby Watson, to put it away.
"They didn't give up, and that makes a team like that very dangerous," O'Dea said. "I think our guys responded. We got a goal back, took the momentum back. I'm happy. I think our guys handled the game really well."
Kyle Trush, Watson, Chase and Mavusi each had two goals to lead CdM. Chase led all players with four steals, and Trush also provided solid two-meter defense.
CdM senior goalkeeper Patrick McKenzie also had a standout game with 12 saves and a pair of steals.
"Patrick has become 'Mr. Reliable,' and the turning point was NorCal," O'Dea said. "He had a tremendous tournament. It's funny, I don't think people realize just what this team got out of that weekend."
What the Sea Kings got was momentum. They hope to keep it going Saturday against rival Newport Harbor, even if history is not on their side.
In his eight-year tenure at CdM, O'Dea is 0-3 in the Division 1 playoffs against Newport Harbor. The Sea Kings lost to the Sailors in the 2005 semifinals, the 2006 quarterfinals and the 2009 semifinals. Two of the three matches went to overtime.
This is a different year, however, and a deep Sea Kings squad.
"I'm really excited [to play Newport Harbor again]," said Chase, who is the Sea Kings' leading scorer with 78 goals. "We're coming at 'em full-force ... We're not worried about seedings. You've got to play everyone to win the whole thing, and that's what we plan on doing. But yeah, we're excited. We're confident right now."