Corona del Mar High girls' water polo coach Ross Sinclair was greeted by Jason Lynch following Wednesday afternoon's nonleague game against Foothill.

Lynch, an assistant coach with Foothill, is the former Newport Harbor High boys' water polo coach. He coached Sinclair during his playing days with the Sailors.

"I'm trying to teach these girls about playing the game mentally, being a student of the game," Sinclair said. "I learned that from [Lynch]. I think I naturally have it, but I also learned more of it from him. Preparing is so crucial."

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The preparation for the home game against the Knights was a bit iffy. Sinclair said the Sea Kings did not have two good days of practice on Monday and Tuesday.

It perhaps showed in the game, as Foothill earned a 12-9 victory just four days after the Sea Kings beat the Knights in the third-place game of the Holiday Cup by the same three-goal margin.

"The whole game, they had a totally different defense," Sinclair said. "That was expected. It's a chess game, and obviously whatever they did in the first game [at the Holiday Cup] didn't work. They made adjustments, and we were prepared for that. It was not a shock to us.

"We just got a little too comfortable. The past two days, there needed to be a little bit more fire that wasn't there. It was not our best two days of practice, that's for sure, especially coming off a positive weekend."

Corona del Mar (5-2) is the No. 2-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1, while Foothill (8-3) is No. 4. But the No. 2-4 spots appear to be very tight this season.

Wednesday's game was tight at halftime. The Sea Kings had a 5-4 lead, thanks to a pair of goals by senior Bobbi Hoose and strikes from Marina Coskinas, Maddie Musselman and Eliza Britt.

The third quarter was a different story. CdM has struggled in that quarter so far this season.

"It's not our favorite," Sinclair said.

That continued to be the case as the visitors rattled off four unanswered goals. Emily Konishi, Sydney Groot, Angela Russo and Katie Hungerford all found the back of the net for Foothill, which took an 8-5 lead into the fourth quarter.

Foothill Coach Jeff Colton, whose team plays at top-ranked Laguna Beach on Friday in another key nonleague game, credited good help defense. He said his returning players also remember that CdM beat Foothill in the Division 1 semifinals each of the last two years.

"CdM is a team that's becoming a rival of ours," Colton said. "[This is] the first time we've beat a team ranked ahead of us. It's good for their confidence. It's good for them to see what they're doing is beneficial."

The Sea Kings drew within two goals on the power play early in the fourth quarter. Coskinas drew the exclusion and Musselman scored, trimming Foothill's lead to 8-6 with 5:58 left in the game. But on the other end, Foothill also drew a six-on-five opportunity, and junior Cana Manzella put it away.

Sophomore Brooke Maxson and junior Julia Sellers added goals, and suddenly the Knights had a four-goal lead with just less than four minutes left.

Maxson led the Knights with three goals, and sophomore goalie Kenzi Snyder made 10 saves.

Musselman led all players with four goals for CdM, and sophomore goalie Heidi Ritner made nine saves. The Sea Kings finished four for eight on the power play; Foothill converted two of five opportunities.

CdM plays host to Irvine in its Pacific Coast League opener on Thursday. The Sea Kings also are the No. 2 seed for the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, for which brackets were released Wednesday. That tournament, the second of three in-season tournaments for CdM, runs Jan. 17-18 at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos high schools.