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Newport Beach Water Polo Club’s 14-and-under boys strike gold at Junior Olympics

The Newport Beach Water Polo 14-and-under boys won the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics title Tuesday at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. Pictured, left to right: Alexander Altshuler, Peter Castillo, Ben Liechty, Trent Smith, Owen Tift, John Woodruff, Finley LeSieur, Tyler Robison, Carter Loth, Finn Genc, Jack Crosby Wright, Nicholas Kennedy and Maddox Arlett.
(Courtesy of Stefano Ragosa)

Ben Liechty is a left-handed center, which is something of a rarity in water polo.

Liecthy and his Newport Beach Water Polo Club 14-and-under teammates accomplished an even rarer feat Tuesday at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.

Newport Beach beat 680 Drivers Red 12-9 to capture the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics title. It is believed to be the first time a Newport Beach team has ever won the 14-and-under age group at Junior Olympics, coach Stefano Ragosa said.

Most of the players on the team, including Liechty, will be freshmen at Newport Harbor High this fall. Liechty’s older brother Jake is a recent Newport Harbor water polo graduate headed to UC Irvine, and his older brother Eli is an incoming junior center for the Sailors.

Ben Liechty earned 14U Junior Olympics tournament MVP honors.

“We were all really excited,” he said. “We were more excited for [Ragosa], because it was the first time that he ever won it. He’s been coaching for Newport for like eight years, and this was huge for him, and our team realized that.”

Top-seeded Newport Beach went 7-0 in the tournament, including a `12-7 victory over Orange County Water Polo Club in the semifinals. Ragosa said the team did not win a tournament all season, but he had little doubt his squad would win when the final match of Junior Olympics came.

“Before the game, I saw the kids’ faces when I was talking about Xs and Os,” Ragosa said. “I didn’t say anything, but I knew we were going to crush them. I’ve never seen the whole group so focused on what I was talking about, so into it. Sure enough, we jumped in the water ... and we were up like 9-2 at halftime. It was crazy.”

Liechty and Peter Castillo both scored multiple goals in the final, Ragosa said. Goalkeeper Alexander Altshuler played well, and other key players included left-hander Nick Kennedy, Carter Loth, Owen Tift and Finn LeSieur. Kennedy is the younger brother of incoming Newport Harbor senior Tommy Kennedy, also a left-hander.

“Owen Tift is an incredible athlete, along with Finn LeSieur,” Ragosa said. “You might not see them on the score sheet, but without them it would be impossible to win. They do a lot of the dirty job. I put Owen on the best player on the opponents, and he took care of it every time. But then he scored like two or three goals when it was important in different games. When nobody wanted to shoot the ball, he took the shot.”

Other contributors for Newport Beach included Trent Smith, John Woodruff, Tyler Robison, Finn Genc, Jack Crosby Wright and Maddox Arlett.

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