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GIRLS' WATER POLO

Rough Waters Ahead for Division I Contenders

February 13, 2001|MICHAEL ITAGAKI

It's seems like a regular ritual. Leagues hold their championship chases, teams jockey to qualify for the postseason . . . then coaches complain about their playoff draw.

But for the Southern Section girls' water polo Division I playoffs, there's no sense whining. Why?

"There's not many easy games out there," Santa Margarita Coach Scott Taylor said. "It's not an easy road for anyone. There's a lot of tough teams."

How tough is the Division I draw? Edison, which until last week appeared on the verge of finishing in a three-way tie for the Sunset title with Marina and Los Alamitos, lost its league finale to Esperanza, 3-1. Since the Aztecs defeated the Chargers, they earned the league's automatic No. 3 entry.

Edison missed the playoffs since there were no at-large berths granted in Division I.

Foothill, the top-ranked team in the county, is top-seeded in Division I and Santa Margarita is second-seeded.

Santa Margarita won the Division IV title last season, before the Serra League was moved up to Division I this season.

With youth national team members Kristina Kunkel and Erika Figge leading the way, Santa Margarita finished third at the Irvine Southern California Championships.

In its fourth season of sanctioned playoff competition, the section's Division I draw features perhaps its strongest field ever. Defending champion Foothill doesn't face an easy road.

After meeting Long Beach Millikan in the first round, if the Knights advance, they would face the Marina-Irvine winner.

Marina is the Sunset League's co-champion led by U.S. junior national team member Cara Chlebicki, and Irvine has played in the last two Division I championship games.

The semifinals could match top-seeded Foothill against fourth-seeded Capistrano Valley. The Cougars have lost three times to Foothill this season, but no one relishes playing them.

Capistrano Valley is led by UCLA signee and junior national team member Amber Stachowski and her younger sister Aimee. But Foothill features perhaps the deepest team. There are two offensive stars--Brittany Hayes and Gabbie Domanic--who are youth national team players, solid defenders and shooters in Breana Allison and Vickie Brown and standout goalie Emily Feher.

DIVISION IV

Corona del Mar defeated University to earn a share of the Pacific Coast League title with the Trojans and Laguna Beach. But the Sea Kings' reward of the top-seeding in the Division IV playoffs might not be the easier path to the final.

Laguna Beach is in Corona del Mar's half of the draw, but since the Artists could not have a home game for the first round, as the PCL's No. 3 entry, they will play at Katella.

University is second-seeded and will play the El Segundo-Western winner in the first round. Also in that half of the draw are Golden West League champion Tustin, Empire champion El Dorado and third-seeded Santa Monica.

The finals are Feb. 28 at Belmont Plaza in Long Beach.

If you have an item or idea for the girls' water polo report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at:mike.itagaki@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

GIRLS' WATER POLO TOP 10

Final Orange County Coaches' Poll

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Pos. School (League) Rec 1. Foothill (Century) 25-1 2. Santa Margarita (Serra) 17-8 3. Newport Harbor (Sea View) 20-7 4. Capistrano Valley (S. Coast) 20-6-1 5. El Toro (South Coast) 20-6 6. Marina (Sunset) 16-9-1 7. Irvine (Sea View) 13-12 8. Laguna Beach (Pac. Coast) 19-5 9. Corona del Mar (Pac. Coast) 15-11 10T. Los Alamitos (Sunset) 19-8 10T. Canyon (Century) 20-6

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