San Clemente’s girls water polo team tuned up for the CIF-SS playoffs by competing in its own “mock” tournament a few weeks ago at the Irvine Southern California Championships.
In the final three games of the event, the Tritons faced Division 2 rival Santa Margarita, San Diego Open Division contender Carlsbad and Newport Harbor, the top-ranked team in Division 2 at the time.
Coach Logan Powell viewed the three-game stretch as a challenge similar to the one his team could encounter in the Division 2 playoffs. There also was a catch. Carlsbad and Newport Harbor had defeated San Clemente earlier in the season.
San Clemente not only met the challenge but emerged as the top seed in Division 2 and one of the top up-and-coming teams in Orange County.
“We had a great weekend at SoCal Champs,” Powell said. “It was encouraging.”
San Clemente (19-8) beat Santa Margarita, 10-4 and Carlsbad, 7-1, before edging Newport Harbor, 4-3, in the ninth-place match in Irvine.
The Tritons, champions of the South Coast League, have blended two seniors at key positions with a young roster. UC Davis-bound goalie Sophia Noble and center Allison Echelberger serve as captains. Noble was the backup goalie last season but has surfaced as one of the county’s most improved goalies.
Powell surrounds Echelberger with junior and tri-captain Brooklyn Aguilera, sophomores Grace Pelkey and Caroline Christl and freshmen Alex Higginson and Aidan Flynn.
San Clemente has reached two other CIF finals under Powell, including a Division 2 title in 2011. The Tritons open Thursday against visiting Redondo, which won Division 3 last season. They would play the Agoura-La Canada winner in the quarterfinals Saturday.
“We’ll have a target on our backs going into (CIF),” Powell said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure but there’s a lot of fun being the No. 1 seed.”
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