A freshman isn’t supposed to start for a program like Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo, but Makoto Kenney was the exception last year for the Sailors.
Coach Ross Sinclair saw the potential in Kenney, who was just 14 years old at the time. In fact, Sinclair predicted Kenney would be the Daily Pilot Boys’ Water Polo Dream Team Player of the Year when he was a senior.
Kenney kept growing stronger in many ways as a sophomore this year, helping the Sailors (25-7) win the Sunset League and advance to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinals, both for the first time in four years.
Now, at the end of the season, Kenney has beaten Sinclair’s timetable by two full years. A sophomore isn’t supposed to get Player of the Year honors either, but Kenney earns it for his leadership this year for the Sailors.
Kenney shined on both ends of the pool. The attacker led Newport Harbor in goals (72) and assists (27), but also field blocks (27). His 68 steals were second on the team as he also helped the Sailors reach the final of the inaugural CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 playoffs.
“I think I was less timid than last year,” Kenney said. “Each game that progressed, I got more confident. Since last year, I’ve focused more on every aspect of the game. I tried to come up with more steals, more blocks, not get scored on.”
Kenney’s shot that went viral was a “helicopter” backhand shot with three seconds left in regulation against Huntington Beach on Oct. 25. The shot from six meters tied the score of the league title game, and the Sailors eventually won 12-11 in sudden-death overtime.
But Sinclair was actually more impressed with Kenney’s game-winner in a nonleague game at Studio City Harvard-Westlake on Sept. 19. It was the way that Kenney beat one of the top goalies in CIF — USC-bound Sam Krutonog — that impressed Sinclair as the Sailors earned a 9-8 win. It was the first of five sudden-death victories for Newport Harbor this season, with Kenney scoring two of the game-winning goals.
“You can tell him to adjust something with his style of play and mechanics, and he instantly can go and do it,” Sinclair said. “Against Harvard-Westlake, [its] goalie is really good. We spent a lot of time talking about where we feel he’s most vulnerable to beat, certain shot selections. The shot he made was one that we talked about a lot. There were multiple times when they played this goalie and their team in high school or club over the last year or two, and he makes us look really bad because he’s a good goalie. We talked about how you’ve got to come up high and finish underneath his armpit, and he did it.
“It was great to see, and that’s kind of what he was all season. I think each game he got better and better.”
Kenney fit in well on a team that was otherwise mostly senior-dominated with players like goalie Max Sandberg, center Jackson Westerman, defender Jason Grew and attackers Ryan Brosnan and John Rankin. Kenney doesn’t say a lot, but the game says plenty.
“I think it went great,” Kenney said of the Sailors’ season. “It was a big improvement from last year, and the year before that, from what I’ve seen.”
Kenney returned to Harvard-Westlake last weekend. Sinclair said he drove Kenney and sophomore teammate Ike Love, as well as Corona del Mar’s Henry Wilde and Tanner Pulice, up to Los Angeles for four days of USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program training.
For Kenney, he said it was his first time training in the ODP program. Judging by his ever-growing skills, it won’t be the last time.
“He’s done a good job of trusting his teammates and the coaching staff, and going out there and soaking it all in,” Sinclair said. “He’s literally getting better after every repetition in every aspect of the game. I think that’s why he’s a sophomore that’s being awarded this quality accolade.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Filipovic, a former assistant coach at Newport Harbor, got his first high school head coaching position when he was hired by the Lightning in July. Sage Hill got a new coach to go along with its new on-campus aquatics center, and Filipovic helped deliver a memorable season. Sage Hill went 20-9, and 3-0 in the Academy League to earn the first league title in program history. The Lightning defeated Glendora 15-7 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs, the first on-campus playoff game in program history, before losing at No. 2-seeded Rio Mesa 7-4 in the second round.
GK | Newport Harbor | Sr.
Sandberg shined in his second year as a varsity starter in goal, claiming Sunset League MVP honors. He earned it after racking up 236 saves in helping the Sailors to the league title, third place in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and second in the inaugural CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 playoffs. Coach Ross Sinclair called Sandberg, a team captain, “a great person and a great role model.”
C | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Zaan spent last season in the shadow of Oilers teammate Quinten Osborne, the 2016 Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year. But this year Zaan stepped into the spotlight and was dominant at two meters. Every time he got the ball, he seemed to either score or draw an exclusion for the Oilers (17-11), who finished second in the Sunset League and eighth in CIF Southern Section Division 1. Zaan was a first-team All-Sunset League and first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection.
ATT | Corona del Mar | Sr.
Cooper excelled in both offense and defense for the Sea Kings in his senior season, and as a co-captain he provided leadership both in and out of the pool. One of the team’s most reliable scoring options, he could also be the player coach Kareem Captan called on to shut down opponents’ best players, like when he held Agoura center Aaron Arias to just two six-on-five goals in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinals. Cooper, the Pacific Coast League MVP and a first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 2 selection, helped CdM (21-10) win league and advance to its first section title game since 2011.
ATT | Laguna Beach | Jr.
It was a balanced attack for Laguna Beach this season, but Breakers coach Trevor Lyle said that Gregory led the team in scoring for the second straight year. Gregory, who was the Orange Coast League co-MVP as a sophomore, had that kind of talent as a junior as well, helping Laguna Beach (19-10) win the league again and advance to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. He was a first-team All-Orange Coast League and first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 2 selection.
UTIL | Costa Mesa | Jr.
A true utility player, Fisher did everything the Mustangs needed. He led Costa Mesa with 106 goals and 74 assists, and he was second on the team with 55 steals as he was asked to play more defense this season. In the process, Fisher became the first non-Laguna Beach player to win the Orange Coast League MVP award since the league was created in 2006. The Mustangs went 16-14, finished second in the league and defeated Vista Murrieta in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs before losing at Servite. With Laguna Beach leaving for the Sunset League next season, look for Fisher to help the Mustangs be in contention for the league title.
C | Newport Harbor | Sr.
Westerman, a UCLA commit, worked hard at two meters for the Sailors throughout the season. He finished with 35 goals this year and led the team with 86 ejections earned. Eight of those came in the Sunset League championship game, including one in overtime that helped senior teammate John Rankin score the game-winning sudden-death overtime goal in a 12-11 Sailors victory. Westerman was a first-team All-Sunset League selection.
DEF | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Cavano was a solid defender for the Oilers. After playing for Team USA over the summer at the FINA Junior World Championships in Serbia, the UCLA commit also proved to be one of Huntington Beach’s more consistent scoring options from the outside, along with senior left-hander Curtis Jarvis. Cavano was a first-team All-Sunset League and first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection.