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JOSHUA SUDOCK, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Twin sisters Stephania Haralabidis, left, and Ioanna Haralabidis, right, will soon be eligible to play for the Corona del Mar girls water polo team. They recently helped Greece's youth national team win the inaugural FINA Youth World Championships in Perth, Australia.

CdM's big addition: twin golden girls

OCVARSITY.COM

NEWPORT BEACH - Ioanna and Stephania Haralabidis quickly smile when the conversation moves to water polo, their mother and their three dogs.

The Corona del Mar twins also don't mind discussing the challenges they encountered in their move from Greece.

They miss their father, who remains in the economically challenged country. They miss their friends and teammates in Greece.

And they admit it has been difficult sitting out the first month of Corona del Mar's season.

Their anticipated Sister Act has been dry-docked because they didn't meet Southern Section transfer requirements for a valid change of address, hardship or participation in an accepted foreign exchange program, the section confirmed.

But even when the difficult subjects surface, the girls remain composed and upbeat.

"To tell you the truth," Stephania said, "it's really, really painful to be sitting there on the bench and looking at those girls play."

In unison, the twins add: "I want to be there playing with my team."

Ioanna and Stephania were on the bench Friday for Corona del Mar's Battle of the Bay match against Newport Harbor, the Sea Kings' biggest match of the young season.

They become eligible Jan. 1 for the county's top-ranked team, which is seeking its first CIF-SS Division 1 title after three runner-up finishes.

"Corona is going to be the favorite, especially with the Greeks," said Newport Harbor coach Bill Barnett, who guided the Sailors past Corona del Mar in last season's Division 1 final.

READY TO PLAY

Despite the sit-out-period, the Haralabidis twins will enter the season with momentum.

Earlier in December, they helped Greece capture the gold medal at the first-ever FINA world youth championships for players 18-and-under.

Greece defeated Hungary, 9-5, in the championship match in Perth, Australia, on Dec. 9.

Stephania, a 5-foot-10½ left-handed attacker, netted three goals in the gold-medal match. Ioanna, who also is 5-foot-10½, added one goal.

"It was an honor (to win)," Ioanna said.

Interestingly, several of Orange County's top players have already dueled against the sisters. The Greek youth team defeated a U.S. team featuring several county standouts, 8-3, in the semifinals.

The captain of the U.S. squad was Corona del Mar senior Cassidy Papa.

"It was really hard that we played against her because she's (also) our teammate," Ioanna said.

The Greek team returned home from Perth to a hero's welcome. They were greeted at the airport by well-wishes and a multitude of media requests.

"Everybody was coming up to us and kissing us and saying congratulations," Stephania said. "They were screaming and there were reporters taking pictures of us. ... It was pretty awesome."

Water polo is a professional sport for men and women in Greece, and one of the most popular sports in Europe. There is a buzz that Greek's women's program is on the rise after failing to quality for the London Olympics.

"I think we're going very, very high with this team," Stephania said.

LEAVING HOME

The sisters began playing water polo at age 12 after participating in swimming for eight years.

They credit their first coach, Stefanos Leandros, and their mother, Janet, for helping them develop.

The family resided in Pikermi, a town in southern Greece. Janet drove the girls 20 minutes to practice daily in Marousi, northeast of Athens.

"I don't know what we would do without our mom," Ioanna said.

The girls and their mother departed Greece in the summer for the United States to seek an education they could balance with their water polo pursuits. The girls signed last month with USC, which features Greek men's standout, Kostas Genidounias.

Greece's economic crisis also factored into the move. The girls say many of their family's friends are unemployed while others have moved to different countries.

While the girls are excited about their future, leaving Greece was still tough. They had been in school with some of their classmates for eight years.

The girls also miss their father, Babis, a former Greek national team water polo player who is now a veterinarian. The twins' three dogs also remain in Greece.

"It was so different going to another country and starting a new life," Ioanna said. "It was really hard – leaving my dad, my house, my friends."

A NEW LIFE

Ioanna and Stephania said they quickly felt accepted by their teammates at Corona del Mar.

The girls also already knew English, thanks to their mother, who is American.

Corona del Mar coach Sam Bailey said the girls' competitive nature has surfaced in practices, and that's fine.

"They're a very solid fit," he said.

Ioanna and Stephania describe their water polo personalities as serious. They enjoy focusing before matches and save the joking around for later.

They fondly recall how the Greek team prepared for matches at the world youth championships.

"Before each game in Australia, we would go inside a person's room and we would all start talking about how much we want this and that we're going to kick some (butt)," Stephania said.

"We put all our hands together and we screamed the name our team, 'Hellas!' (an alternative name for Greece) and get all confident."

Added Ioanna, "We're like soldiers."

The march toward CIF begins soon.


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