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Newport Harbor girls’ water polo clamps down on rival Corona del Mar

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Newport Harbor’s Morgan Netherton shoots high over Corona del Mar goalkeeper Maya Avital and scores a goal during the Battle of the Bay match on Thursday in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Coach Ross Sinclair can remember the last time, before Thursday night, that the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team beat rival Corona del Mar.

The Sea Kings had three one-goal losses to the Sailors in 2015, when Sinclair was the coach of CdM and not his alma mater Newport Harbor. His now-assistant coach, Carlee Kapana, made some big saves down the stretch as goalkeeper in Newport Harbor’s victories back then.

Five years is a long time in girls’ water polo. Sinclair’s Sailors may be young this year, but they continue to impress and make their mark.

The latest effort was a 10-4 Surf League win at CdM on Thursday, which broke a seven-match losing streak to the Sea Kings since beating them on Jan. 17, 2015 at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions in late longtime coach Bill Barnett’s final season.

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Newport Harbor (14-5, 2-2 in league), ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 poll, moved into a second-place tie with No. 10 CdM (6-11, 2-2) in league. Both teams have two league matches remaining.

Top-ranked Laguna Beach (4-0 in league) has clinched at least a share of its second straight Surf League title.

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Newport Harbor’s Lily Gess scores a goal during the Battle of the Bay match at Corona del Mar on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Sophomore Lily Gess scored a season-high four goals for the Sailors against CdM. Senior left-hander Ashley Salem also shined, with two goals, two assists and a match-high four steals.

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Newport Harbor jumped out to a 6-1 halftime lead, even after CdM’s Ciara Greenman scored the match’s first goal. The Sailors allowed just two “natural” goals to CdM, as one Sea Kings goal came on a penalty shot and one came on a six-on-five.

"[Defense] was the focus,” Sinclair said. “The big focus was understanding their tendencies. They have some really good players that you’ve got to be aware of at all times, and I thought throughout the whole game we were really locked in and focused. We had that defensive mindset the whole game.”

Sophia Stark, Taylor Smith, Morgan Netherton and Olivia Giolas each scored one goal for the Sailors, with Netherton adding three assists. Senior Emily Cantu had a pair of assists, and freshman goalkeeper Anna Reed made nine saves.

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Newport Harbor’s Morgan Netherton fires a shot during the Battle of the Bay match at Corona del Mar on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

After Greenman’s goal with 4:27 remaining in the first quarter, CdM did not score again until Grace Myers struck on a penalty shot she drew with 4:58 left in the third quarter. The nearly two-quarter scoreless streak hurt the Sea Kings, who went down 8-1.

Gess said the Sailors had success running a four-five zone.

“We were very aware of where everyone was at all times,” Salem said. “I think that helped us a lot, especially with our communication. We all knew where the ball was and what we had to do in that time.”

Myers scored twice for CdM, Kate Rodman added a goal and goalkeeper Maya Avital made 11 saves.

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CdM has an uphill climb to try to get a .500 record and apply for an at-large berth to the postseason, though the Sea Kings still could get there automatically with a top-two finish in league. Coach Justin Papa said the Sea Kings added the Claremont tournament this weekend, and will try to get some wins there to improve their postseason chances.

The Sea Kings were without junior center Kaity Greenwald (concussion) and senior defender Megan Peterson (sickness), Papa said.

“Getting healthy is our No. 1 priority,” Papa said. “As our strength comes back, we’re going to keep playing better and better water polo. I still don’t think this team has played their best water polo this year, personnel or not.”

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Newport Harbor’s Taylor Smith (2) tries to block the shot of Corona del Mar’s Emily Cloherty (5) during the Battle of the Bay match on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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