SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — They hadn't played in a week, so there could have been rust.
They were missing three starters due to family holiday trips, so there could have been apprehension.
But the Corona del Mar High Sea Kings just keep on rolling.
The CdM girls' soccer team won its three-team pool at the North Orange County Classic on Thursday. The Sea Kings beat Pacifica, 1-0, before topping Fountain Valley, 2-0, at St. Margaret's High.
Corona del Mar (8-1) plays against St. Margaret's at 11 a.m. Friday, back at St. Margaret's. A win would place the Sea Kings in a tournament "white division" semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday, at La Mirada High.
The white division championship is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at La Mirada. The Sea Kings, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and No. 3 in the state by Elite Soccer Report, appear to have a good shot to be there. They are also ranked No. 1 in Orange County by the Orange County Register.
Coming off a breakthrough year that included being the top seed in the Division 1 playoffs, Coach Bryan Middleton's club is playing with a lot of confidence.
"'Mids' told us to forget last year," said junior forward Miranda Stiver, who scored CdM's first goal against Fountain Valley. "We're just going to start a clean slate. I think that's how the team feels. We know that there's expectations for us, but to us, all we have to do is get on the field and win. It doesn't really matter what happened last year. Honestly, it's great, but it's pretty irrelevant when we're on the field now. We just try to look forward and win games, and count on each other to do that. I think the team we have now is amazing, and we'll do just as good or better."
Stiver, an Oregon State commit, helped CdM get on top against the Barons. She took a pass from her future Pac-12 Conference foe, UCLA-bound senior midfielder Annie Alvarado, before firing a shot in near the left post in the 11th minute. It was the team-leading fourth goal for Stiver, and team-leading fifth assist for Alvarado.
"We do a lot of really short connecting, and I think that works best for our team when we do that," Stiver said. "Annie gave me an amazing ball, like a little tiny toe-poke. It was at the top of the 18 and I saw the back post was open, so I just took the shot. And it went in, so I was happy."
Fountain Valley tried to get even but was called offside five times in the first half. Starting defenders Alana Hunter, Alexa Mamatas, Brynn Motal and Molly Keasey were able to draw the Barons off.
The one time the Barons (4-2-3) were able to get a legitimate through ball, Dakota Griggs found Madison Gomez. But the shot was easily saved by CdM freshman Kat Hess, who had three saves.
Hess, who has participated in U.S. Soccer Under-14 national training camps, played the whole game at keeper. The Sea Kings are missing junior goalie Kendall Mulvaney, senior forward Emily Krebs and sophomore defender Brianna Westrup for the tournament due to family commitments, but they played smooth Thursday.
"We had periods of time in the game when we played to our style, where we kept possession," Middleton said. "We didn't have to force the ball forward. We were able to keep the possession in the defensive third and switch it back and forth, and that opens us plays going forward. That even opened up balls going over the top for us today, which we usually don't play. We usually like to build it up."
CdM added to its lead in the second half. As sophomore Shelby Brown ran down the left side of the field five minutes into the half, Middleton yelled at her to earn a corner kick. She did better, crossing it to fellow sophomore Birkley Sigband, who gathered herself before shooting it into the upper part of the net.
UC Santa Barbara-bound senior forward Maddie O'Connor (knee) also got her first action of the season Thursday for the Sea Kings. She reluctantly came out of the game in the second half against Fountain Valley, but told Middleton that she felt good.
Alvarado scored the game's lone goal against Pacifica. Middleton said Hess also came up big in the second half, saving one shot on a breakaway and one on a penalty shot to preserve the victory.
"She plays at a very high level for her age," Middleton said.