Costa Mesa High junior Lauren Smith likes to be a team player in girls' water polo, setting up her teammates.
When needed, though, she definitely can take matters into her own hands. When the ball left Smith's hand on Wednesday, it usually went right into the back of the net.
She scored a career-high nine goals to help the Mustangs breeze past Estancia, 14-4, in the Battle for the Bell game at Costa Mesa High.
Costa Mesa has never lost the bell game to Estancia in girls' water polo. The Mustangs weren't about to have that streak broken in the Orange Coast League opener for both schools, not with Smith's hot shooting.
"I knew that I had to step up today, just because it's our rivalry game," said Smith, who also led all players with seven steals. "We wanted to really come out with a punch. Me stepping up gets the other girls more pumped, so they want to play harder. That's what I'm all about, getting the other girls involved, not just offensively but defensively as well."
The Eagles (3-6) stayed in the game in the first half, even after junior Melissa Folkerts and senior Devon Christensen scored the game's first two goals for the Mustangs (8-11). Nikkie Blinn, one of just two seniors for Estancia, answered with a hard outside shot from the right side to keep the visitors close.
Costa Mesa took a 5-1 lead late in the first half before Estancia junior Alexis Discenzo scored from two meters with nine seconds left in the half.
In the second half, however, the Mustangs wore the Eagles down with their counterattack.
Blinn scored again from about seven meters late in the third quarter, trimming the lead to 8-4. But from there, the Mustangs scored the game's final six goals. Five of those were scored by Smith, who scored three of her goals on penalty shots that she drew.
Costa Mesa seems to get big individual performances in the rivalry game. Last year, it was then-senior Kellie Thorsness who scored eight goals in Costa Mesa's 20-4 victory.
Estancia's first-year coach Amber Peters, a program alumna who graduated in 2009, saw her team fade a bit after the intermission on Wednesday.
"The first and second quarter, we really held on nice and strong," Peters said. "The third quarter, they started getting a little tired ... [but] they really played competitive all the way to the end. I'm really proud of them. This is a better score than we've seen [against Costa Mesa] in a couple of years.
"We have a very young team, so we have a lot of learning to do. But next year I have a feeling that we'll be a lot better, a lot more cohesive. We have a variety of players. We have some good swimmers, and we have some very novice swimmers. Some of them, we've had to teach how to swim, then bring in the ball and teach them how to play polo."
Folkerts scored three goals for the Mustangs, who also got a goal from sophomore Bridgette Smitheram. Junior goalie Antonia Velasquez made nine saves.
Mesa excelled on the power play, on which it converted seven of eight opportunities. The Mustangs also held the Eagles to one for six on their power play.
"That's been one of our biggest weaknesses," Costa Mesa Coach Tim Postiff said. "We've maybe gone 30% or 40% on it, so to make almost all of them today is a significant improvement."
Estancia junior Natalie Smith also scored, adding a team-high five steals. Eagles junior Jenna Rutledge had three steals, and sophomore goalie Alex Adkisson made six saves.
Costa Mesa was coming off playing up at the Arroyo Grande tournament, in which Postiff said the Mustangs won just one of five games last weekend. But the annual trip is a positive as it serves as a good team-bonding experience, Smith said.
"The games didn't go how we wanted them to, but I think it helped us to point out what we needed to work on in practice," Smith said. "That's exactly what we did when we got back. We got in the water, and we went hard. We fixed our fundamentals a little bit, and that's what allowed us to succeed in this game today."
Each local team continues league play on Jan. 22. The Mustangs, who finished second in league last year, play host to Godinez. Estancia plays at Laguna Beach, which has won the league every year since it was created in 2006-07.