In water polo, like in basketball, it never hurts to have a dominant center.
The difference is that most of Ike Love’s 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame is underwater when he plays. Fans don’t get a chance to know just how massive the Newport Harbor High senior is until he gets back on land.
Still, though much of the action in water polo happens beneath the surface, it’s a very physical sport. At the high school level, someone who seems like a man among boys can go a long way.
Love was that guy the last two years for the Sailors boys’ water polo team. The two-time Surf League MVP helped lead the Sailors back to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match this year. He was one of the best prep centers in the country, and he also earns another award for the second time.
For his dominance at two meters, Love is the Daily Pilot Boys’ Water Polo Dream Team Player of the Year for the second straight season.
“Obviously, his size stands out from the beginning,” Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said. “I think he’s got some really good hands, which is rare at a young age being the size that he is. A lot of times, you get guys that come off as potentially clumsy. Their hand-eye coordination hasn’t really clicked yet. From Day One, even when he was a freshman watching him, his hands always were really good. Then, obviously just his ability to hold position and make himself available through zones and multiple drops is special.”
Love, bound for Stanford, helped the Sailors go 28-5 overall and 6-0 in the Surf League, winning their third straight league title. Newport Harbor lost to Studio City Harvard-Westlake in the Division 1 final for the second straight year, and again fell to the Wolverines in the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title match.
“Obviously, we’re bothered that we didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal, winning CIF, but I’m still really happy with the way that we performed throughout the season,” Love said. “I felt like we trained as hard as we possibly could. I can’t say that I’m mad. Obviously, I’m disappointed, but I just hope that Newport puts itself back in the same spot and contends for a CIF championship next year.”
Love, an All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection, said he worked extensively on his explosiveness and speed at center. He credited Sinclair and the Sailors’ assistant coaches for helping him improve in that area. This year, he was also part of a great one-two combination with the emergence of junior center Eli Liechty.
Love also was part of an impressive senior class for Newport Harbor, with goalkeeper Blake Jackson (USC), defender Reed Stemler (USC), attacker Makoto Kenney (UCLA) and left-handed attacker Tommy Kennedy (Cal) also going off to play at big colleges.
There was no doubt about the man who was in the middle, though.
“Ike backed it up and played at a really high and consistent level for two years straight,” Sinclair said. “That’s extremely difficult, especially playing the position that he plays and knowing that he’s now on everyone’s radar.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Baier has built up the program in his two years with the Vikings. This year, Marina was fairly young and finished third in the Wave League for the second straight year, but the difference was that the Vikings made noise in the postseason. Marina made the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2005, and the Vikings’ 12-6 win over Estancia in a Division 5 first-round match was the program’s first postseason win since 2003.
UTIL | Newport Harbor | Sr.
Kenney broke his left pinkie finger in the first match of the season at The Bishop’s School of La Jolla, and ended up missing about a month. But the UCLA-bound player, who was the Dream Team Player of the Year as a sophomore, made a difference down the stretch with his scoring and especially passing abilities for the Sailors. He was a second-team All-Surf League and first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection.
ATT | Corona del Mar | Sr.
The UCLA-bound Pulice led the Sea Kings with 129 goals, was second on the team with 31 steals and third with 34 assists. CdM went 19-11 overall and 2-4 in the Surf League, finishing third for the second straight year. Pulice, a first-team all-league and first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 2 pick, had one of his best matches in the final one of his high school career, scoring six goals in a 9-8 sudden-death overtime loss to eventual champion Foothill in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
UTIL | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Haddad was an emotional leader for the Oilers, wearing his heart on his sleeve. One of the most dangerous shooters in the CIF Southern Section, he scored a co-team best 33 goals during Surf League play for Huntington Beach (19-11, 4-2 in league), helping the Oilers finish second in the league and eventually fourth in Division 1. Haddad, an All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection, is bound for Long Beach State.
2M | Newport Harbor | Jr.
Liechty’s development gave the Sailors two very strong centers, something few CIF Southern Section teams could match. He came off the bench to spark Newport Harbor, which sometimes utilized a double-post offense with Liechty and Ike Love. Liechty was a first-team All-Surf League selection and showed that he could carry the load when he scored five goals in an 11-8 win over Westlake Village Oaks Christian in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs.
UTIL | Corona del Mar | Sr.
Harvey served as a sort of point guard for the Sea Kings with the way he dished the ball out to teammates, but he also developed into a very efficient outside shooter. He was second on CdM with 47 goals and added team-best totals of 70 assists, 68 steals and 30 field blocks. Harvey was a second-team All-Surf League selection.
ATT | Huntington Beach | Jr.
Dodd was a quick shooter and quick swimmer for the Oilers, often sparking their counterattack. A first-team All-Surf League and All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection, he tied with teammate Cooper Haddad with 33 goals during league play. He scored a team-high four goals in the Oilers’ 11-5 upset road win over No. 4-seeded Orange Lutheran in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs and should take on even more of a leadership role next year.
GK | Laguna Beach | Sr.
Capobianco maintained his reputation as one of the top goalkeepers in Orange County for a young Breakers squad. A first-team All-Surf League selection, he helped Laguna Beach (15-13) stay competitive in the Surf League despite an 0-6 league record. Three of the Breakers’ six league losses were by two goals or less. Capobianco, an All-CIF Southern Section Division 2 selection, is bound for the U.S. Naval Academy.
Position, Name, School, Year
ATT Tommy Kennedy, Newport Harbor, Sr.
ATT Ethan Crooks, Huntington Beach, Jr.
ATT Logan Richard, Estancia, Jr.
UTIL Dane Howell, Edison, Sr.
ATT Vincent Labonte, Marina, So.
DEF Reed Stemler, Newport Harbor, Sr.
GK Blake Jackson, Newport Harbor, Sr.
GK Joey Palmblade, Costa Mesa, Sr.
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