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Newport Harbor hangs on to beat O’Dea-led Long Beach Wilson

Newport Harbor hangs on to beat O’Dea-led Long Beach Wilson
Newport Harbor High goalie Emma Kennedy defends the net during the first half against Long Beach Wilson in a nonleague girls' water polo game on Tuesday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

It had been more than a year since Barry O'Dea had coached against Newport Harbor High in a high school water polo game.

O'Dea resigned after 12 years as the CdM boys' water polo coach in May. He returned to the pool deck at Newport Harbor on Tuesday coaching a different school, and in a different gender.

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The fiery O'Dea is in his first year as the Long Beach Wilson girls' water polo coach.

"I didn't actually see this game on our schedule until a week before the season started, and I was like, 'Wow, OK,'" said O'Dea, who lives in Long Beach. "It was cool [coaching against Newport Harbor again]."

O'Dea almost led the young Bruins to an upset win over the host Sailors, but Newport Harbor held on for an 8-7 nonleague victory.

The Sailors improved to 2-0, while handing O'Dea and the Bruins (0-2) their second straight one-goal loss to open the year after they fell to Corona Santiago 10-9 on Nov. 29.

Juniors Karis Couch and Annie Rankin scored two goals each for the Sailors, who were unable to pull away. They finished just one for one on the power play and missed a pair of penalty shots, and Wilson stayed in the game despite falling behind 5-2 after the first quarter.

"[I felt] frustrated, at times," Newport Harbor coach Brian Melstrom said. "Our execution was off … Defensively we weren't communicating at times and doing what we want to do. And we left a lot of goals out there. We must have hit the bar 10 times. We had some good opportunities in front of the goal and didn't execute."

Newport Harbor's Linnea Kelly (9) secures the ball before scoring a goal while Wilson's Ava Smith (12) defends her during the first half on Tuesday.
Newport Harbor's Linnea Kelly (9) secures the ball before scoring a goal while Wilson's Ava Smith (12) defends her during the first half on Tuesday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Senior Kaela Whelan, juniors Kili Skibby and Linnea Kelly and sophomore Emily Cantu also scored for Newport Harbor, which got four steals from Rankin and three from senior captain Jessica Lynch.

"All of us definitely felt some frustration at multiple points in the game," said Lynch, who is signed with UC Irvine. "We all came together, and none of us ever really gave up. We kept pushing through, and I think that's how we ended up getting the win ultimately."

Junior goalie Erin Ross also made some big saves late, finishing with seven despite splitting time with senior keeper Emma Kennedy, who made one save in the first half.

Ross' power-play save with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter kept the Sailors ahead 7-6. She then saved a backhand try from five meters by Wilson junior center Brooke Gruneisen, who led her team with two goals and drew four exclusions.

Ross, the Sailors' junior varsity goalie last season, said she doesn't mind splitting time in the cage.

"I play second half, and I like it because I get to see what I need to work on and focus on during the game by watching the first half," Ross said. "It was stressful. I was shaking, but I knew we were going to pull through."

The Sailors got an insurance goal on the other end, with Whelan scoring on her team's only six-on-five chance of the game with 2:57 remaining. The goal was assisted by Lynch.

Wilson, which started two freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors, got a long-distance goal from seven meters by sophomore Megan Siman with 1:24 left. But the Sailors were able to hold on, with Ross saving freshman Ava Bishop's shot from five meters with about 30 seconds to go.

O'Dea was happy after the game, saying that his team came to play. As for the Sailors, they have a nonleague showdown at Foothill on Friday at 3 p.m. The Knights advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals last year, a round further than Newport Harbor.

"I think it's going to be a really good game," Lynch said. "Playing such a close game like today was definitely a good way to see how we'll react in close games, to test our limits."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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