Sinclair fulfills dream as pro

The dream started at a young age, carrying on through high school in Newport Beach, going topsy-turvy in college at Santa Barbara and now heading down under.

No, the dream is not over for Ross Sinclair. It has become reality.

Thursday, Sinclair, a former standout water polo player at Newport Harbor High, will be in his first pro game as the season starts for the Hunter Hurricanes of Australia's National Water Polo League.

Yes, Sinclair can call himself a professional water polo player. That's what his dream was all about back when he started playing at age 9.

There was a sense he had pro potential in high school, when, as a freshman, he was part of Newport Harbor's CIF Southern Section Division I championship team. Later on, he was named Sea View League MVP in his senior year.

It was easy to see Sinclair had skill. He also studied the game diligently, keeping in the back of his mind that he would someday become a coach.

Yet for all that Sinclair had going for him in high school, there was something missing. Sinclair lacked size.

He was 5-foot-9, 135 pounds when he graduated from Newport Harbor in spring 2003. He headed for UC Santa Barbara. As a freshman, there seemed to be just one thing left to do.

He ate. He ate. And, he ate.

“In my freshman year, all the freshmen got together and we all had a competition of who could gain the most weight,” Sinclair said. “We probably ate nine to 12 meals a day.” Also during his time at UC Santa Barbara, Coach Wolf Wigo continually encouraged Sinclair to spend more time in the weight room.

Sinclair arrived at UCSB a thin boy. But, he left the Gauchos a different man at 6-feet, 180 pounds.

Sinclair was also different in the water. He was a smart player in high school, an accurate passer who thrived on counterattacks.

But he took it to the next level, even though it seemed he had every reason to quit.

However, by the end of his college career, he had left his mark with the Gauchos.

He finished tied for fifth among UCSB all-time scoring leaders with 156 career goals. He revived the offense in the program, becoming the most prolific goal scorer UCSB had seen in over 20 years.

“He had a tremendous feel for the game, and always made incredible goals,” Wigo said. “He was always in shape and could play more minutes than most players. He was also very competitive.”

Sinclair earned third-team All-American honors his final two seasons. This past season, he was tops for UCSB in goals (55), steals (29) and field blocks (17). He was also tied for first in assists with 36.

He also led UCSB in goals (64), assists (48), steals (52) and field blocks (14) in his junior year.

“The player I am now, I would have never expected to be the way I am,” Sinclair said. “I've been the go-to guy, which is nice. I'm more of a threat than I was in high school.”

He wants to continue to show that while in Australia, where he'll be playing through April. But while he's fulfilling his dream, he'll also be working at that thought that is still in the back of the mind, yet creeping to the forefront quickly.

Sinclair will help in conducting water polo clinics for young players.

“It's everything that I could have imagined,” Sinclair said of his set-up on the land down under. “The whole thing is a free trip, basically. They put me up in an apartment and they gave me these coaching clinics. They set me up with meals. It's all paid for.”

But it's not all pie-in-the-sky for Sinclair. He left his friends, family and girlfriend behind when he took off for Australia Jan. 2.

He met his girlfriend, Janelle Ives (a soccer player for the Gauchos), while at UCSB. They were both sad that they would be apart, but excited because the opportunity would provide so much for Sinclair, including a career in coaching. He hopes that will end up at Newport Harbor, where he has helped out with some coaching from time to time since graduating.

He enjoys making an impact on young people. For the past six years, he has been an instructor for the Newport Beach junior lifeguard program.

“From what I've seen, he does a good job with younger players and younger kids,” said Sailors boys' water polo coach Jason Lynch, who was Sinclair's coach in his senior year. “He definitely has the knowledge. He learned a lot from Wolf Wigo at Santa Barbara.

“He has a lot of enthusiasm. He's a real competitor. Sometimes people can take that the wrong way. He just wants to win so bad. It's great to have someone who wants to get into coaching. He would be a good asset to work with our kids.”


STEVE VIRGEN may be reached at (714) 966-4616 or by e-mail at steve.virgen@latimes.com.

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