CORONA DEL MAR — Brianna Westrup is not new to soccer at all, but you wouldn't find her at the Corona del Mar High fields last year as a freshman.
Westrup was in the pool, playing girls' water polo for CdM. This year she decided to come back to soccer, the sport she plays club for Newport Beach-based Slammers FC.
"I love water polo but it's really time-consuming," Westrup said. "It was a little bit easier for me to play soccer."
The sophomore defender made it hard on rival Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay match Thursday afternoon. She finished off a goal in the 73rd minute, helping the Sea Kings rally for a 2-1 victory at CdM.
For much of the match it looked like the Sailors could upset the Sea Kings, who are the No. 2 team in CIF Southern Section Division 1. CdM also is ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 7 in the nation by Elite Soccer Report.
But CdM had to catch Newport Harbor off guard to win the Battle of the Bay for the third straight year. It happened after CdM (6-1) earned a corner kick late in the second half.
Junior Miranda Stiver went to put the ball in the corner and touch it quickly, which made it a live ball. But the Sailors didn't immediately realize this.
CdM sophomore Shelby Brown, who was supposed to be taking the corner kick, instead was able to dribble it a considerable way toward the goal. Senior Monica Venturini got a touch on the ball before Westrup put it away.
"It's something that we work on, because it works once a year," CdM Coach Bryan Middleton said. "It happened to work today against Newport Harbor."
CdM dominated the opportunities in the first half, including several by Stiver, an Oregon State commit. But the Sailors (2-5-1) took the 1-0 halftime lead, after a beautiful volley by senior Jenna Castillo from near the top of the box found the right side of the net.
The Sea Kings kept working. They tied it in the 44th minute after a more conventional corner from senior Karsten Sigband. Westrup nearly headed it in, but the Newport defense held. CdM senior defender Alexa Mamatas kept the ball in the box, however, and senior forward Emily Krebs was able to score on a header.
"At halftime we knew we had to come out hard, and we did," said UCLA-bound senior midfielder Annie Alvarado, last year's co-Newport-Mesa Player of the Year. "We kept fighting. I'd say we were still confident at halftime. We knew we could come back and push for the win. Not just the tie, but the win, too."
Middleton said that in scouting Newport Harbor's 3-1 win over Estancia on Tuesday, he noticed the Sailors were vulnerable on corner kicks. The scouting paid off for the Sea Kings two days later.
Junior Kendall Mulvaney and freshman Kat Hess had to combine for just two saves for CdM. Mamatas, senior Alana Hunter, sophomore Brynn Motal and Westrup also led the defensive charge. Westrup, who also took several long free kicks, has taken on a defensive role similar to that of graduate Sydney Raguse, who shared Newport-Mesa Player of the Year honors with Alvarado last year.
"I thought we were a little disorganized sometimes," Westrup said. "The way their midfielders run at you is kind of hard to judge. But overall, I thought we did a pretty solid job defending them, just trying to cut off their passes and eliminate the one-on-ones with the goalie."
Newport Harbor got solid defensive play from Jessi Prather, and junior keeper Rowan Frederikson made five saves. Castillo, senior Jill Messersmith and sophomore Toni Holland were effective in the midfield, and freshman Paige Fults — a frosh/soph call-up — provided a spark at forward.
"I thought we had them on the ropes a little bit, but they're the movie stars," Newport Coach Larry Draluck said with a smile. "You can tell I'm kind of [upset], right?"
The Sailors have lost by one goal to two of the top three teams in Division 1, as they fell to No. 3 Dana Hills, 1-0, on Dec. 11. In fact, all five of Newport Harbor's losses have been by a single goal. Draluck said his team is missing the production it got last year from forwards like graduate Josie Jogwe.
But Newport Harbor also can take momentum from Thursday's match. He told his players after the match that they were the better team.
"I was so proud of my team, just the fact that we competed with such a great team," Draluck said. "And soccer-wise, when it came to technique and tactics — except for the corner, where we fell asleep — I felt we were the better team, as far as moving the ball, combinations up the middle. When it comes to the front end, and you don't have those forwards, it's just really tough to score."
CdM returns to action next week at the North Orange County Classic. The Sea Kings open play against Pacifica on Dec. 27 at 8 a.m, at St. Margaret's.
Middleton said UC Santa Barbara-bound senior forward Maddie O'Connor, who is recovering from a meniscus tear, was cleared to practice Thursday. He hopes to have her for limited minutes next week in the tournament.