CORONA DEL MAR — Appropriately enough for a game four days before Christmas, the past, present and future of Corona del Mar High girls' water polo all came together Friday.
These weren't ghosts like in Charles Dickens' novel. There was no Tiny Tim, just two tall Musselman sisters.
CdM graduate Alex Musselman, now a goalie at UCLA, could represent the past as she sat in the stands. The great thing for the Sea Kings is that her younger sister, freshman Maddie, looks to have a huge role in both the present and future for the Sea Kings.
Maddie Musselman had a goal, two assists and a match-high five steals as the Sea Kings pulled away for an 8-6 win over rival Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay.
Last year, it was Alex who provided a spectacular ending in this game, scoring the game-winning goal from full-tank at the buzzer. This year, it was Maddie who stepped up in all facets.
"It was super-fun," said Maddie Musselman, who also drew a five-meter penalty shot and had a field block. Through the Sea Kings' first three games, she has a team-high 14 steals.
"I really like playing with my team a lot," she said. "The Battle of the Bay last year with my sister really encouraged me to win the game a lot, do the same thing I guess."
It was still a balanced effort for the Sea Kings (3-0), the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1. They pulled away after Newport Harbor junior Christina O'Beck tied the score at 4-4 late in the third quarter.
Musselman's defense made a difference. She stole the ball at mid-pool and fed senior co-captain Cassidy Papa, who put it away in transition to give CdM a 5-4 lead with 21 seconds left in the quarter.
"There's athletes at every level who have athleticism and talent, and there's athletes at every level who are just students of the game," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said. "With either one of those, you can definitely excel, and Maddie's one of the athletes who has both. I think the icing on the cake, and maybe the most important part of it all, is her attitude. She's always smiling, always happy, always encouraging her teammates. It's awesome."
The Stanford-bound Papa, making her season debut after competing in the FINA World Youth Championships in Australia earlier this month, led all players with three goals and two field blocks. One of the goals was on the penalty shot that Musselman drew.
The Sea Kings separated themselves from the Sailors (3-2), ranked No. 3 in Division 1, in the fourth quarter. Senior Genevieve Weed scored from the perimeter with 6:08 left. Then, she fed senior lefty Ally McCormick for a goal.
After CdM killed off a Sailors power play, Musselman passed it in to Weed, who scored at two meters to give CdM an 8-4 lead with 3:19 to go.
UC Santa Barbara-bound Newport senior Carly Christian scored on a backhand attempt, and O'Beck scored again with 29 seconds left. But all the Sea Kings had to do at that point was hold the ball to win the rivalry match for the second straight year.
"They really enjoy playing together," Bailey said of his team, which continues to play without Greek senior twins Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis, eligible next month. "They've been working really hard, and they have a lot of confidence in each other. As a coach, you can't ask for more. You feel like every lap, every stroke, every possession, every stop, they're doing it for each other. It makes it a lot of fun for everybody in the entire program."
McCormick scored twice for CdM, including one on a nice look-away from seven meters just before halftime that tied the score at 2-2. CdM senior goalie Erica Weed, a co-captain, made seven of her 10 saves in the second half.
Senior Morgan Stewart had a pair of steals for the Sea Kings, who also shined defensively. Genevieve Weed matched up on Elissia Schilling and Musselman had Christian, who is Newport Harbor's leading scorer. The two players combined for two goals.
"We've played them so many times," said Genevieve Weed, a defender. "I've been matched up on Elissia [Schilling] forever, so we kind of know each other's tendencies. I had to be ready for everything, backhands, sweeps, everything. That was a lot of what we prepared for, center defense."
Schilling, headed to UCLA, did have a goal, a field block, and drew two exclusions for Newport Harbor. Junior goalie Cleo Harrington made seven saves. USC-bound senior Avery Peterson and sophomore Rachel Whitelegge also scored for the Sailors, but Coach Bill Barnett couldn't be happy after his team gave up six second-half goals.
On offense, Barnett watched shot after shot sail over the cage.
"We couldn't shoot the ball," Barnett said. "That was the problem, 30% shooting. Terrible."
Of course, the teams will most likely play again this year. They're both among the favorites for the Holiday Cup, which begins Dec. 28. Last year, they met five times, with Newport Harbor capturing the most important game by rallying for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title.
For now, though, the Sea Kings appear to be the team to beat. Alex Musselman made sure she caught up with her little sister after the game.
"She gave me a really big hug," Maddie Musselman said. "She said, 'Great job, I knew you could do it.'"
This time, it didn't have to come down to a goalie shot with 0.65 seconds left.
"We were all definitely thinking about that a little bit before the game, what happened last year," Genevieve Weed said. "Halfway through the fourth quarter, we were up by three, so we were just focusing on defense and not letting it come to that again.
"We didn't want a second round of that."