It was a tough assignment for a Corona del Mar High girls' lacrosse team coming off spring break.
The Sea Kings had to play host to Foothill in a nonleague game. Foothill is ranked No. 1 in the state of California by laxpower.com, as well as No. 3 in the western United States behind two teams from Colorado.
Yes, this was a powerhouse, undefeated Foothill team coming off an 18-3 thrashing of CdM's Pacific Coast League rival Beckman on Friday. It would have been easy to lose by a comfortable margin, then talk about improving in the coming weeks for the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs.
And yet, that simply wasn't enough for this year's Sea Kings.
Instead, they notched one of the biggest wins in program history.
Senior captain Sabrina "Bean" Smith scored the game-winning goal with 36 seconds left as CdM hung on for a 16-15 upset victory. Foothill's potential game-tying goal by senior Julia Taylor was disallowed with two seconds left due to a crease violation.
This year, nobody on the Sea Kings seemed to be using that word, "upset." Not after CdM's second huge win in two weeks, following a 15-11 league win over Beckman on April 2.
"Never felt better," said CdM senior captain Jamie Smith, who had two assists and a couple of key interceptions late in Monday's game. "I thought [beating] Beckman was good enough, but this definitely put a cherry on top."
Sabrina Smith and fellow captain Kacie Kline each scored five goals for the Sea Kings (9-3), ranked No. 8 in Southern California by laxpower.com. But perhaps even more impressive than the win was the way the Sea Kings took it to Foothill (10-1).
They never trailed after the opening minutes of the game, taking a 9-7 halftime lead. The hosts then scored three of the first four goals of the second half, grabbing a 12-8 advantage with 15:40 left when Kline scored off an assist from freshman Kennedy Mulvaney.
The lead was five goals, at 14-9, after Kline scored on a free position shot with 12:50 on the clock. The Sea Kings were playing well and earning most of the draw controls after the draw was taken by Sabrina Smith. They took advantage as Foothill's player who usually takes the draws, sophomore Meridian Lee, was out of town. This week is spring break for the Tustin Unified School District.
"That was a big part of the game," said Foothill Coach Kaylee Navarette, whose Knights also missed another starter in Lee's older sister Dominique. "Right now, [Meridian Lee] has a 70% draw win [rate]. Julia Taylor stepped up to the plate and was able to win some in the end, but that's really what killed us."
CdM controlled 20 of the game's 32 draws. Jamie Smith and sophomore Payton Carter, who scored three goals, each earned six draw controls for the winners. Sabrina Smith had five.
"We talked about it before the game," Sabrina Smith said. "We don't always crash in as much, but before the game we talked about having everybody really go into the circle on the draws, going for the ball."
Foothill rallied to tie the score at 15-15 when Mallery Kiefus scored with 1:53 left. Carter earned an eight-meter shot on the other end that was blocked by Foothill goalie Hannah Upshaw, but Carter managed to get the ball back. Soon, Sabrina Smith earned an eight meter with 40 seconds left. She took advantage, scoring the game-winning goal.
Taylor, who along with co-captain Jordan James led Foothill with three goals, lost the ball in the closing seconds. Jamie Smith picked it up but was trapped near the sideline. Foothill co-captain Claire Healy came up with the ground ball and found an open Taylor in front, but the goal was disallowed with two seconds left.
All CdM senior goalie Kate Allen (eight saves) had to do was hold onto the ball after that, and CdM had its big victory.
"Foothill has always been a really strong team, not only in terms of stick work but physically strong," CdM Coach Aly Simons said. "I think that aggressiveness really showed on the field. I like when refs let us play a little bit, when it's not a whistle every two seconds, and I think they did a great job of [calling] a high-intensity game.
"I think what's exciting about these victories that we've had is that it proves we can play at that level, if we're mentally prepared for it. Some of our losses prove that when we show up not mentally prepared, we have the ability to lose also. But it's fun to know that you can play with the best. It makes a good game to watch."
CdM's fourth senior captain, Kendall Mulvaney, had two goals and an assist. Simons also praised the defense as a unit, led by Allen, senior Taryn Beaufort, juniors Emily Schwartz and Megan Rieden and freshman Jensen Coop. Rieden, who also plays midfield, scored the Sea Kings' first goal after running all the way up the field.
It was definitely a team effort for the Sea Kings, who appear to no longer be just knocking on the door of Orange County's elite teams.
"I think Beckman was the [game] that really showed us that we're really in this," Jamie Smith said. "We're one of those top teams. We're not competing to get there. We are there."
CdM plays at Temecula Valley on Wednesday before playing host to rival Newport Harbor on Friday in the Battle of the Bay.
"We have a tough week," Simons said, knowing that it's off to a great start.