SANTA ANA — It took nine players, seven games and 112 goals for Costa Mesa Aquatics Club to prove itself on a national stage.
Oh yeah, and one gold-medal effort.
The program is making its first appearance at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. On Tuesday afternoon at Mater Dei High, the Costa Mesa 12-and-under "Black" team showed it had the heart of a champion.
CMAC won the classic division at the world's largest water polo tournament, defeating top-seeded Alliance Aquatics of Capistrano Valley, 9-7, in the championship match.
Caedmon Fisher, who scored four goals and drew four exclusions in the title match, was an obvious standout for Costa Mesa. He also scored 10 goals in an 18-3 victory over L.A. Water Polo in the semifinal match earlier Tuesday.
But Costa Mesa had plenty of kids step up to beat Alliance, the team which had topped CMAC in a fourth-quarter buzzer beater at Junior Olympics qualifying.
Dustin and Cody Serrano, Costa Mesa High alumni and twins who played water polo for the Mustangs, coached CMAC to victory. They said a team effort was definitely key.
"We're one team," Dustin Serrano said. "There may be one guy scoring a lot of our goals, but our team's feeding him for it. Our goalie, Kevin [Johnson], stepped his game up too. That kid is going to be known in high school. Kevin's going to be an amazing player when he gets older; all of these kids [are]. My job is to make sure all of them go to college. I want to make sure every one of them plays in college. That's me and Cody's No. 1 goal, have them be college-prepared."
Johnson brought it in the title match, recording 11 saves, two steals and an assist. Teak Zachary had two goals, five steals and a pair of assists for Costa Mesa, and Augie Cunningham also scored twice.
Jose Albarran Quero, who had four steals in the title match, said winning the gold medal "felt legit."
Johnson said the victory was "amazing."
"It's better than anything that we've had yet in water polo," Johnson said, adding that being the first team in program history to win gold meant "bragging rights."
The loss to Alliance at JO qualifying left CMAC with a bad taste in its mouth. It also left the local 12-year-olds not playing in the highest division, the championship division, at the Junior Olympics.
"Just a lot of ups and downs," Dustin Serrano said. "We rode that emotional roller-coaster throughout JO quals. We won our first game, and the kids got a little happy about it, and all of a sudden we lost the next game by one [goal] in the fourth quarter. All of the games were lost by one. We really wanted to be in the championship division, and that's what we kind of wanted to come out here and prove, that we deserve to be in that championship division."
Third-seeded Costa Mesa never trailed in the classic division title match. After Alliance's Ty Matson tied the score at 4-4 early in the third quarter, CMAC's Fisher scored on a nice pass from Blake Hudson. Fisher then scored again after Zachary forced a ball-under call on the defensive side. And, after CMAC's Jacob Garcia netted a power-play goal with 2:02 left in the quarter, the locals had opened up a 7-4 advantage.
Alliance used two power-play goals of its own to narrow its deficit to 7-6 headed into the fourth quarter, and Dylan Clemens' outside shot tied the score at 7-7 with 3:46 to go.
But CMAC answered. Quero fed Fisher for a counterattack goal just 31 seconds later, then Zachary scored a six-on-five goal with 2:01 left. Costa Mesa would allow no more goals.
Michael Burgard and Stewart Campbell also contributed for Costa Mesa, which played with just two substitutes and overcame a player fouling out in the second half.
"We sucked at qualifiers, but we came in first at JOs," Fisher said. "We did so much better this time ... we all stepped up."
Zachary and Hudson each had three goals in the semifinal win over LAWPC, and Johnson made four saves.