RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — They came, they saw and they conquered.
In the process, members of the CdM Aquatics 18-and-under girls' team won gold medals.
Nobody could stop CdM in the classic division at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. CdM finished it off Sunday at Santa Margarita High, topping Elite of Murrieta, 10-6, in the gold-medal game.
The program seems to have shrugged off a disappointing result at Junior Olympics qualifying, which left CdM in the classic division instead of the championship division. But you have to beat the teams that are put in front of you, and CdM accomplished that feat, going 7-0 over the four-day tournament and outscoring its opponents by a combined 86-25.
No game was closer than four goals.
"We've taken some huge steps in the right direction, to put ourselves in a good position for the future," CdM Coach Ross Sinclair said. "This weekend really symbolized that. We're becoming a really disciplined team. I challenged them, saying, 'We've got to win this thing.' We got two good games at the end. Elite is a really quality program, and to grind out that win like that, that's a high-quality game. In my opinion, that's top-20 type of stuff in this whole [tournament], so it was good."
CdM incoming junior Eliza Britt was on fire in the final, scoring five goals. Senior center Marina Coskinas scored three times, and incoming sophomore Maddie Musselman was her usual versatile self. Musselman had two goals, two assists, five steals and drew two exclusions.
CdM went three for four on its power-play, while holding Elite to one for seven.
"It feels good," Britt said. "Even in the classic, it's nice to win. We improved a lot in the summer … Everybody thinks that this is a lot younger team for CdM, but we're just here to show them what we can do."
CdM, which defeated Riverside, 11-5 , in the classic division semifinals Sunday morning, also got many other contributions. Incoming sophomore goalie Heidi Ritner had a big performance in the championship match, making 14 saves and adding an assist.
Ritner, who stands 5-foot-11, reminds of a certain other tall former CdM goalie who started as a sophomore. Alex Musselman, the 2011 Newport-Mesa Player of the Year who now will be a sophomore at UCLA, watched Sunday's gold-medal match as well.
"[Ritner] just trains so hard, and it pays off," Sinclair said. "She's our rock … it's a bright future with her as our goalie."
Incoming seniors Bobbi Hoose (two steals), Annie Mortimer (a steal and two field blocks before fouling out) and Kampbell Gritsch (one steal) also contributed defensively. Sinclair also appreciated the job that Britt did defensively on one of Elite's top players, Maddie Sanchez, who did lead her team with four goals but had just two of those come naturally (one on six-on-five and one penalty shot).
"That's like a 10-goal effort for [Britt]," Sinclair said. "Five goals on offense, and she took away five goals that girl can score."
Elite narrowed its deficit to 8-6 on Sanchez's penalty shot with 4:56 left in the game. But Britt scored on a pretty shot from six meters, one that appeared to glide on the top of the water.
Then, after Coskinas drew a six-on-five opportunity, Musselman scored it from the left with 2:56 to go. CdM was up four, and could begin thinking about those gold medals.
"We showed that we deserve to be in the better division," Coskinas said. "We obviously didn't do that well in [Junior Olympic qualifying], but we've progressed as a team and it paid off in the end."
•In other action from the final day of Junior Olympics:
Newport Water Polo Foundation's 18-and-under girls lost to United Red, 10-7, and finished in 14th place in the championship division. Christina O'Beck and Chanel Schilling each scored twice in the 13th-place match, and goalies Cleo Harrington and Carlee Kapana combined for 17 saves.
Newport Beach resident Brianna Daboub, playing for United, led all scorers with five goals.
"I didn't think we did a very good job at two-meter defense," Newport Coach Bill Barnett said. "We allowed them to set early without any hindrance at all. When we came in to try to steal the ball, they didn't really to steal it. They just kind of pawed at it."
Still, Barnett said he was mostly happy with his team's tournament, besides a one-goal loss to Rose Bowl on the second day. NWPF went 4-4 overall.
"[Rose Bowl] was a pivotal game for us, and I thought we should have won that one," Barnett said. "Other than that, I was pleased. They played very well."
Newport's 16-and-under girls also lost twice in the classic division, finishing in fourth place. Newport fell to International, 8-7, in the semifinals and to Alliance, 8-2, in the third-place match.