Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo senior Makoto Kenney couldn’t get the smile off his face during Wednesday’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal playoff match.
Kenney was all over the pool, with three goals, three assists, three exclusions drawn and two field blocks.
“It was really fun seeing all of our teammates score, all our teammates get ejections, everything,” Kenney said. “I like playing the point guard position, seeing everybody else do everything. It’s fun. I think our team chemistry, when it’s working really well, it’s the most fun you can have playing the game.”
A near-perfect first half from the Sailors also gave Kenney plenty to smile about.
Second-seeded Newport Harbor dominated No. 3 Los Angeles Loyola early and earned a 9-6 win at Woollett Aquatics Center, advancing to its second straight Division 1 final.
Newport Harbor (26-3) will make back-to-back CIF finals appearances for the first time since winning consecutive Division 4-A titles in 1983 and ’84. The opponent Saturday at a time to be determined will be a familiar one, No. 1 Studio City Harvard-Westlake (27-2).
The Wolverines defeated Huntington Beach 10-7 in the second semifinal.
Harvard-Westlake upset the Sailors 5-3 in last year’s Division 1 final and has won two of three matches against Newport Harbor this season. The Sailors’ lone win came on Oct. 12 when it edged host Harvard-Westlake 11-9.
“We play them a lot throughout our season, so it’s just another game,” Kenney said. “We’ll be ready … We were here last year and we want to finish it off this time.”
Wednesday was a big day for Newport Harbor’s core group of five seniors. Earlier in the day, each of them signed to play in college Kenney at UCLA, goalkeeper Blake Jackson and defender Reed Stemler at USC, center Ike Love at Stanford and left-hander Tommy Kennedy at Cal. A few hours later, each player made sure to chip in for a semifinal win over Loyola (24-6).
Kenney, Love and Kennedy each scored three goals, accounting for all of the Sailors’ goals. Jackson made 14 saves and Stemler contributed an assist and two steals.
Newport Harbor led 5-0 at halftime and the lead never got less than three goals in the second half.
“We were just focusing on defense, being aware on the defensive end,” Kennedy said. “That was just leading to our counter, and we were successful on that. We also did a good job of earning six-on-fives and putting them away early.”
Newport Harbor converted four of its seven power-play chances, holding Loyola scoreless in five such opportunities.
Jackson made a couple of highlight saves. Just before halftime, he stuffed an inside shot from Loyola’s Trey Rogers on the power play. Jackson yelled out in exuberance after making the block from about three meters, preserving the Sailors’ first-half shutout.
“Seeing him make a couple of big saves early, I think that got everyone else’s confidence going,” Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said. “I thought he was great, and I thought the team around him was great defensively as well. He was really locked in. I think he did a good job of being prepared and understanding some tendencies. His focus was great, and I think it rubbed off on the rest of the group.
“From a senior leadership standpoint, I think that’s one thing that sometimes makes my job a little easier. They’re inspiring everyone else, getting them fired up and keeping them focused. It’s fun to watch.”
Carson Kranz had two goals, two assists and three steals to lead Loyola.
On Saturday, Newport Harbor will be going for its 13th CIF title, but the first since 2007. Sinclair hopes his seniors can again deliver big performances in the clutch.
“They had a great game,” Sinclair said. “It was a great day for them. Now it’s can we sustain it, bottle it up, focus for two days and come out and have another one on Saturday? That would be ideal.”
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