Stellar play by Bree Valbuena is the one thing the Marina girls' water polo team has been able to count on the last few seasons.
Amid constant tumult, the senior goaltender has established herself as one of the Southland's best players -- and a major-college prospect with Olympic dreams.
But that didn't make it any easier Wednesday after Marina's 16-0 loss to Los Alamitos in its final Sunset League game brought an end to her high school career.
In goal, where her height, athleticism and instincts took over, Valbuena always enjoyed a modicum of control. Her coach, Jimmy Newton, compared her to "a vacuum cleaner."
It's some of the circumstances outside the pool that have not been so easily swept away, leaving a wake of what-ifs.
For starters, what if there had been some continuity in the guidance the Vikings received?
"I wonder what it would be like if we had a coach for four years," Valbuena mused. "I always think about how we'd do, what our team would be like if we had that."
Newton is the third Viking coach in Valbuena's four seasons as a varsity starter, and he's the school's fifth in six seasons.
"You get attached to a coach, then all of sudden he leaves," Valbuena said.
Scott Penttila, who left last year, has been the only coach to stay at Marina for two seasons since Dave Carlson left the school to take over the Los Alamitos program in 1999.
Penttila's departure came a few months after his assistant, Brian Akian, was accused of secretly videotaping girls' water polo players in the showers at Marina in October 2002.
Akian, who also was a swim coach, last November pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of invading the privacy of another. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation and 60 days of community service and was ordered to stay away from Marina.
Penttila was not implicated in the case, and school officials said the incident was not the reason he left Marina. Akian declined to discuss the matter.
It is possible that Valbuena was not seen on the tape. Her family never received confirmation from police either way. Still, a trust was broken, and she is somewhat reluctant to talk about the incident.
"We all loved Brian," she said. "Everyone trusted him. He was a great coach. He was a great guy, and we were all comfortable with him. It was a huge surprise. I still feel like he's a great coach. I just have no respect for him now."
Although Valbuena says the incident is behind her, some of those closest to her say it's not entirely forgotten.
Her father, Richard, is angry -- and concerned about how school officials handled it. He said several people viewed the tape and kept it over a weekend before turning it over to police.
"I just thought ... 'What the heck were you guys doing watching our kids? Having popcorn and soda, and watching the girls in the shower?' I thought that was ridiculous," Richard Valbuena said.
Shelly Luth, Marina's girls' athletic director, said she received the tape on a Thursday, viewed it, then gave it to school district officials, who turned it over to police the next day.
"My take on it is that we handled it and handed the tape over to the police ASAP," she said.
Richard Valbuena last year lived in Newport Beach and, thinking his daughter might want a fresh start, gave her the option of attending Corona del Mar, a school with a perennially strong water polo program.
She chose to stay at Marina.
"I wouldn't want to change schools and get used to all new friends," Bree Valbuena said. "I'd just feel horrible. I couldn't leave my friends, I couldn't leave my team."
Three players, two of them starters, transferred. Another stayed at Marina but did not play this season.
If they all had stayed? Well, that's another one of those what-ifs.
Marina finished 12-15 overall, 2-3 in league. Seven of its losses were by three goals or less.
Valbuena is credited with keeping the Vikings in playoff contention until the end.
"She's one of the top goalies in the country," said Carlson, the Los Alamitos coach. "She's special."
Valbuena's goal is to make the U.S. national team. Short-term, she is mulling college choices. She has taken recruiting trips to Arizona State and San Diego State. USC, Long Beach State or California also could be in her future.
But as she looks forward, she can't help but take a glance back. She sees possibilities for Marina.
"I want to see the team succeed still," she said. "I'd like to see a coach that stays. That's what our whole team wants."