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High School Male Athlete of the Week: Eli Liechty quickly emerging for Newport Harbor water polo

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Newport Harbor High junior center Eli Liechty helped the Sailors win at previously undefeated Studio City Harvard-Westlake on Oct. 12.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Eli Liechty has had a chance to play with both of his brothers during his time in the Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo program.

Jake, an attacker, graduated last year and now plays at UC Irvine. Ben, a left-handed attacker, is one of three left-handers seeing substantial minutes along with senior Tommy Kennedy and sophomore Gage Verdegaal. Ben has worked his way into the Sailors’ starting lineup as a freshman.

Eli, a junior, is different because he plays in the middle at center. He may also be the most outspoken of the three brothers, and Sailors coach Ross Sinclair has no problem with that.

“When he blocks someone, he’ll let you know,” Sinclair said. “When he scores on someone, he’ll let you know. In practice, he brings a really good energy, and I appreciate it. He makes other people have to step up. I mean, he talks a little trash I guess, in basketball terms. You can hear Eli from a mile away, let’s put it that way. You know when Eli’s around, because you’ll hear him.”

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Liechty may not be lacking in confidence, but he’s also not lacking in game. He’s in his second season playing as center for the Sailors (`17-3), and he’s the “lightning” to the “thunder” that is senior starting two-meter man Ike Love.

Liechty is 6 feet 4, and Love is 6-7. The duo doesn’t have a catchy nickname, but they are hard to stop. They prefer to let their work speak for itself, as they draw multiple exclusions — and score multiple goals — seemingly every match.

“It’s amazing,” Liechty said. “He goes in and beats everyone down, and he makes it easy for me to just jump in there and pick up where he left off. Having that kind of talent in there, it’s always helpful. He’s a great player, and I’m going to miss him next year.”

Liechty also helps the Sailors, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, in other ways. In their nonleague match at top-ranked Studio City Harvard-Westlake on Oct. 12, he guarded two meters in the second half after the Sailors’ primary set guard, senior Reed Stemler, fouled out midway through the second quarter.

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“Those centers for Harvard-Westlake are animals,” Liechty said. “They’re really good … It was a grind, but I really enjoyed having that chance. It was unfortunate that Reed got out so early, but I think we were able to manage without him.”

It wasn’t an easy task, but Liechty helped hold Harvard-Westlake’s two senior centers — George Avakian and Mot Stothart — to one goal each. He also scored two goals himself, as well as assisting on Love’s goal with 3:31 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Liechty certainly showed no signs of fatigue after he was fouled outside of five meters. He made a quick dry pass to Love, who buried the shot. Newport Harbor went on to win 11-9, handing the Wolverines their first loss of the season.

“I definitely had a conversation with my assistant coach [Brian Schiefer],” Sinclair said. “I was like, ‘Hey, are we going to be able to roll with Eli for the whole second half?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, of course, it’ll be fine. It’s Eli; he’s got it.’

“I don’t think he sees it as a challenge. I think he just sees it as like, ‘All right, I get to play more, I love it.’ It’s exciting and fun for him.”

Liechty scored two more goals Wednesday night as the Sailors edged Huntington Beach 9-8 at Corona del Mar High, clinching at least a share of their second straight Surf League crown. Newport Harbor looks to close the season strong.

The Sailors can clinch the outright league crown with a win over host CdM on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Then next weekend, they head to the Bay Area to try to defend their title at the Memorial Cup tournament.

The motivation is easy for Liechty to understand. Though Newport Harbor went just 1-2 against rival Harvard-Westlake this regular season, the Division 1 title match is the one that matters most. The Wolverines upset the top-seeded Sailors 5-3 last year to win the title at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.

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“Losing to them last year was the hardest thing that’s ever happened in my sports career,” Liechty said. “Knowing what that feels like, at least 90% of our team knows what that feels like. The reason that we do what we do is so that we end up on top, and we don’t have to go home on that bus again feeling the way we did. I think that pushes us every day in practice, and with everything that we do, to come out on top.”

It is that competitive drive that Sinclair finds in not only Eli but both of his brothers. He said it comes out in matches, in practice or even when the team plays basketball in the offseason.

“There’s this appreciation of being a part of a team, a brotherhood, and they show that every day,” Sinclair said. “That’s something I really appreciate. There’s times when you have lifeless days and you’re down and out, and you need a kid like Eli, you need a Liechty to come around and kind of reignite that love and fire back into the group. That’s something that he does really well. He makes me really enjoy coaching. Coaching a guy like him is as fun as it gets.”

Eli Liechty

Born: March 30, 2003

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 6 feet 4

Weight: 235 pounds

Sport: Water polo

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Year: Junior

Coach: Ross Sinclair

Favorite food: Pasta

Favorite movie: “The A-Team”

Favorite athletic moment: Helping Newport Harbor win the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I title last year.

Week in review: Liechty scored twice in a 14-2 Surf League win over Laguna Beach on Oct. 7, then had two goals, an assist and a field block in Newport Harbor’s 11-9 nonleague win at previously undefeated rival Studio City Harvard-Westlake on Oct. 12.

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