The best 18-and-under girls' water polo players from around the world are descending on Madrid, Spain this weekend for the FINA Youth World Championships.
Three of them happen to be from Newport Beach.
They are Mater Dei High graduate Brianna Daboub, Newport Harbor High incoming senior Carlee Kapana and Corona del Mar High incoming junior Maddie Musselman. And they want to continue their recent winning ways.
The U.S. women's youth national team left Friday morning from Los Angeles International Airport for the tournament, which happens every two years. In December 2012, Team USA placed fourth at the inaugural Youth Worlds in Australia. That tournament was won by Greece and featured CdM alumni Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis, now at USC.
Kapana was the backup goalie on that 2012 U.S. Youth Worlds team. Now, she's the starter. She said Thursday that she's excited, for the tournament and also to travel to Europe for the first time.
Last month, Kapana and the USC-bound Daboub helped the U.S. Youth team capture the UANA Junior Pan American Championships in Riverside. And Kapana, Daboub and Musselman were all on the team last summer that won the Youth Pan American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
But the Youth Worlds are even more packed with talented European squads.
Team USA, coached by new University of Michigan Coach Marcelo Leonardi, has been training at the Joint Forces Training Base Pool in Los Alamitos and Citrus College in Glendora recently. In Spain, Team USA is in a group with Hungary, South Africa and Germany. The tournament opener is against a physical Hungary team, on Monday at 1:30 a.m. Pacific time.
"I think we have a really good chance to win," Kapana said of the tournament. "We have really good team chemistry. This team has been together a long time, through ODP and stuff.
"[Playing Hungary first] is going to be a great challenge. It's going to show us right off the bat how good the competition is. We can't start slow. We have to start fast, right off the bat."
Musselman, the 2013-14 Newport-Mesa Player of the Year, has been spending much of her time playing with the senior national team along with Laguna Beach incoming senior Makenzie Fischer, who is also on the Youth team headed to Spain. They helped Team USA win the Kirishi Cup last month in Russia.
Musselman said she's also excited to visit Spain for the first time, as she continues to blossom as a player.
"I really enjoy playing with people that are my age," Musselman said. "I'm excited to see what I can do in Spain. I want to see where I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are and see if those are the same with the senior team. When you travel internationally, you can really see where you shine and where you don't."
Team USA plays against South Africa on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Pacific time, and Germany on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. The tournament continues through the championship match, which is Aug. 31.
"We've been building a lot of chemistry and working really hard," Musselman said. "A lot of people are believing in us, so hopefully we do well. I'm excited."