There are obvious reasons why first-year Corona del Mar High girls' water polo coach Ross Sinclair would appreciate senior Annie Mortimer.
Mortimer has put in time at the lower levels of the program, building her way to the senior team captain status she currently enjoys. She had a standout game offensively and defensively last week in the Sea Kings' 7-5 upset Battle of the Bay win over Newport Harbor.
But there is at least one other thing Sinclair loves about Mortimer. She is money on team road trips. He trusts her iPod more than most of her teammates.
"She puts her iPod in and it's good music," Sinclair said. "This is really good stuff. [I said] 'Annie, you're always driving with me, and we're listening to your iPod all the time.' I think she had some Modest Mouse maybe in there, Vampire Weekend.
"There's only a handful of the girls that listen to some quality music. The rest are caught up with this Miley Cyrus and electronic garbage, in my opinion. She's different than the other ones, in a good way."
At 28, it's clear that Sinclair has different musical tastes than his players, who are more than a decade younger. But it could be said that musical tastes are subjective.
What wasn't subjective was how well Mortimer played in that Battle of the Bay match. She skipped in a shot from the perimeter in the second quarter, giving the Sea Kings a 2-0 lead. More than that, she acted as an effective distributor.
"She dictated and controlled the offense," Sinclair said. "She knew what to do and really controlled our attack ... You might get zero shots in the game, you might get zero goals, but can you distribute and get the ball where it needs to be for us to be successful? That Battle of the Bay game, she did really well at that."
It seems that Mortimer was born to be in the water. She said that her grandfather, Charlie Langmade, was a lifeguard in Newport Beach back in the day.
"It made more sense for me to play water polo than running or something," said Mortimer, whose mother, Carole, was a swimmer at San Marino High in the early 1980s.
Annie said she got into the sport at the end of the eighth grade. Her friend since kindergarten, CdM senior Bobbi Hoose, helped to introduce her to the sport.
She played frosh/soph her freshman year. Her sophomore year, she got great experience playing at two meters with CdM players like Diana Murphy and Pippa Saunders, who are now at Princeton and Cal respectively. Mortimer turned into a reliable set guard.
"They had a really good class of centers and defenders," Mortimer said. "I was able to grow a lot my sophomore year ... I worked really hard, knowing that I loved it. I wanted to go somewhere with the sport. Swimming was kind of boring to me. I knew I needed a sport that had a ball, or was more entertaining than just staring at a line."
Mortimer saw her work pay off in a tangible way. She got her first meaningful varsity experience early last season in a road trip to Dos Pueblos and Santa Barbara. The Sea Kings were missing three of their best players. Then-senior Cassidy Papa, now at Stanford, was at the FINA Youth World Championships in Australia. And Greek twins Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis, now at USC, were ineligible for the first month of the season. Plus, then-junior Marina Coskinas didn't play against Santa Barbara (ACT test).
Yet CdM shocked a full-strength Santa Barbara squad. Mortimer had a key field block in the fourth quarter of the 8-6 win.
"It was really exciting," Mortimer said. "Looking back on that season, that was one of my favorite weekends. I was able to play up and get that varsity experience. It definitely pushed me to be a better player."
CdM ended up winning the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. This year's Sea Kings lost six of seven starters from that team, but they have steadily grown through the summer and fall.
Newport Harbor still beat CdM, 8-1, in the championship game of the Monday night fall league. The Sailors got a number of their goals from two meters that night, but that was not the case in the Battle of the Bay.
Mortimer, who will play collegiately at the University of Michigan, helped lead the defensive effort against a Newport Harbor team that features four starters who can play center.
"We were really pumped and fired up," she said. "That last night league game didn't go so well for us. We were really pumped to show them that wasn't our best. We had a good warm-up and were really focused."