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CdM's chemistry a winning formula
IRVINE – It's said that power-play efficiency is one of the best gauges of team chemistry in water polo.
To score, teammates need to quickly find their positions and pass the ball to get the open shot in the all-important chance with the extra attacker.
Corona del Mar did just that Wednesday night to not only show their improved chemistry but also sink second-seeded Foothill (25-4), 10-9, in overtime in the CIF Division 1 semifinals at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center.
Greek transfer Ioanna Haralabidis snapped a 9-9 tie with a power-play goal off a pass from Cassidy Papa with 41 seconds left in the second, three-minute overtime.
"I believed in Cassidy," Haralabidis said. "When I was sitting there, waiting for her to give me that pass, I knew that she would give it to me because we trust each other, we love each other. I just trust in them."
Corona del Mar's defense then made a late stand to send the third-seeded Sea Kings (26-4) to the finals for the second consecutive season.
And for the second season in a row, Corona del Mar will play rival Newport Harbor in the finals. The defending champion Sailors stunned top-seeded Santa Barbara, 8-5, in the second semifinal. The finals are Saturday at Woollett at a time to be announced.
Saturday's meeting will be the fifth between the Back Bay foes (the series is tied, 2-2).
Corona del Mar's Ally McCormick drew the exclusion on a counterattack to set up Haralabidis' winning goal, which came after a timeout and several passes and fakes by the Sea Kings.
CdM finished 6 for 11 on the power-play, with all six goals coming from Ioanna and her twin sister, Stephania. Ioanna finished with three goals while Stephania netted three of her team-high four goals in the fourth period.
Corona del Mar goalie Erica Weed made two of her 10 saves in the final three minutes, including a stop in the closing seconds on Foothill's final shot.
The Sea Kings also overcame a 6-3 deficit in the third and the loss of an injured Maddie Musselman, a freshman who didn't play and had her hand wrapped.
"It's just who we are," Ioanna said of the Sea Kings' rally. "When we're losing by two or three goals, we get angrier and we fight harder because we all believe in each other."
As for Musselman, arguably the top 9th-grader in the county, Ioanna said, "We kept telling each other, 'Ok, Maddie hurt her arm, so that means we have to fight harder. We have to practice harder, so we can win this.' It was a challenge."
Said Corona del Mar coach Sam Bailey of Musselman, "We're excited to see where she is at on Saturday."
Corona del Mar chased Foothill most of the match. The Sea Kings led, 1-0, and then didn't lead again until Stephania's counterattack goal with 1:21 left in fourth after a save by Weed.
"The girls believe in each other and they believe in themselves," Bailey said. "They're never going to quit. The team showed so much heart. ... They played with a lot of bravado."
Sophomore Cana Manzella paced Foothill with four goals. Brenna Thomas added two goals, including a man-advantage strike with 46 seconds left in regulation to tie the score, 9-9, and force overtime.
Foothill, which had defeated Corona del Mar twice earlier in the season, finished 3 for 8 on the power-play. The Knights lost standout Nikki Stansfield to her third foul in the fourth period.
In the other Division 1 semifinal:
Newport Harbor 8, Santa Barbara 5: Carly Christian, Christina O'Beck and Rachel Whitelegge each scored twice, and Cleo Harrington made 13 saves to lead the Sailors (24-6) back to the finals.
Harrington was sharp from the first period, making consecutive point-blank saves against standout Kelsey O'Brien on counterattacks. Both chances would have given the Dons an early, 1-0, lead.
Instead, Newport Harbor jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a lob by Avery Peterson after a rebound, a re-direct by Elissia Schilling on a pass from Carolyn Smith on the power play and a perimeter strike by Whitelegge from about 6 meters.
The Dons had won 19 consecutive games and owned a 3-0 record against Newport Harbor but their mostly drop-defense was in trouble early.
"They hit some shots. I thought that was the biggest (difference)," Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said. "We'll give up outside shots all day, just because we have to. We don't have anyone who can match up against Schilling (at 2 meters)."
Before the first period ended, Whitelegge, a rising sophomore, added a cross-cage lob shot from 5 meters for a 4-1 lead.
Newport Harbor later made it, 5-2, in the second period on a power-play strike by Christian. The Sailors' hot outside shooting returned late in the third as O'Beck extended the lead to 6-3. Then on the ensuing possession, Peterson made a quick steal and drew a penalty shot on a counterattack that Christian converted for a commanding, 7-3, lead.