After winning the CIF Southern Section Division I championship Saturday night at Irvine High, members of the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team said they knew they could do it.
Newport Harbor faced long odds, down three goals to Back Bay rival Corona del Mar headed into the fourth quarter. But the top-seeded Sailors remained determined. So, after scoring the last four goals of the game and rallying for a 6-5, overtime win, pure joy mixed with a feeling of disbelief.
“I can’t believe that we came back like that,” Newport Harbor senior Jessica Robinson said. “We just had the confidence to come back, and we did not give up or let down.”
Heroes emerged. Senior Kimmy Morrison had scored just 21 goals this season and one in the playoffs. But, with senior Mimi Bury fouled out, Morrison had a huge goal from set with just less than three minutes left in regulation, bringing the Sailors within a single goal.
Senior Erin Reid, often the first off the bench, had two goals in the game, including the one preceding Morrison’s that helped get the rally going.
The deep Sailors have shown this year that they have players on the bench who can contribute. And the feeling that Newport Harbor is a cohesive all-around team partially comes because the team plays together year-round.
Newport Harbor and CdM are two of the few club teams in Southern California that are formed just from single high schools.
Last summer, playing as an 18-and-under club team for the Newport Water Polo Foundation, the Sailors competed in the S&R; Sport Junior Olympics in San Jose. Newport Harbor placed eighth in the 51-team field, not a bad showing against superpower teams such as eventual Junior Olympic champion Santa Barbara Water Polo Club.
SBWPC draws girls from both Dos Pueblos High of Goleta, this year’s CIF Southern Section Division II champion, and Division II runner-up Santa Barbara High.
But Newport actually beat SBWPC, 8-7, in one of the tournament’s games. Bury said that game really told hear what this year’s Sailors could accomplish in the high school season.
“As a high school team, we beat Santa Barbara,” Bury said. “I think that was a big eye-opener to the potential of our team.”
Senior goalie Morgan Vickers agreed.
“We knew after this summer,” Vickers said. “We came out as a high school team and did well at [Junior Olympics], against all-star teams that just take the best of the best. After that, it was just like, ‘OK, we’re pretty good. When it comes time for the season, let’s just make sure we’re that much better and step up and prove it.’ ”
COACHES REVEL IN WINS
One of the first people to greet Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett after winning the Division I title was boys’ water polo coach Jason Lynch.
Lynch knows the feeling. His Sailors boys defeated Northwood, 11-3, last fall to win their first CIF championship since 2000.
“Not quite as easy as yours,” said Barnett, smiling, to Lynch, after his girls beat CdM in overtime for their fourth CIF title.
Both teams combined for a first in the CIF Southern Section. It marks the first time a Division I boys’ and girls’ team from the same school has won CIF water polo titles in the same school year.
CDM REMAINS PROUD
For Corona del Mar Coach Aaron Chaney, the final result of Saturday’s game was disappointing.
But, Chaney said, it does nothing to take away from the efforts of his Sea Kings this season. The young squad, which returned just one starter from a year ago in junior Heather Van Hiel, opened the season 5-5 before winning 19 of 20 to advance to the Division I championship game.
“I’m so proud of these girls and where they came from,” Chaney said. “If you would have asked any of my parents, the girls or me last May, if this was going to be their season, they would have said, ‘Yeah right.’ I’m really proud of them. It’s unbelievable.”
Chaney credited the leadership of seniors Allison Peotter, Carissa Dice, Corinne Treadaway, Kate Stimac and Stephanie Figge. Only Peotter and Dice played big minutes this season.
“Sometimes you have chemistry problems on teams, and we’ve had none, literally none that I know of,” Chaney said. “I really attribute that to all five of the seniors. They never have a negative attitude, and I think that sets a positive example to the rest of the players on the team. They go, ‘Wow, you’re a senior and you don’t play that much, yet you can still be positive.’ Stuff like that really makes a huge difference. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for other people to complain about their playing time when they see seniors on the bench and keeping a positive attitude.”
That attitude has been a key. Chaney said he read “The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World.” The book is about the 1999 World Cup winner.
“In there, one of the players told their coach, ‘Coach us like men, treat us like women,’ ” Chaney said. “I always try to do that with my girls. I try to coach them like boys and treat them like girls. Quite honestly, this year, I’ve treated these girls like boys. I really got on them at times if they weren’t focused or they weren’t performing the way I’d seen them perform before. They never took it personally ... These girls never got down on themselves, even though I yelled at them. They’ve believed in themselves all year long.”
MATT SZABO may be reached at (714) 966-4614 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.