Olivia Giolas is a strong student at Newport Harbor High.
The first semester ends next week with finals, and the junior will be hitting the books in preparation. Her course load includes Advanced Placement classes in Calculus, Physics C: Mechanics and U.S. History, as well as an International Baccalaureate class in Literature.
“I’m hoping to finish off the semester with a 4.6 grade-point average,” said Giolas, adding that she is an avid reader.
In terms of playing the center position for the Newport Harbor girls’ water polo team, Giolas has been a quick study. She’s a three-year varsity player, but her emergence has been one of the key highlights of the team’s season so far.
Giolas is one of just three upperclassmen who start for the Sailors (14-5, 2-2 in Surf League), as well as seniors Ashley Salem and Emily Cantu. That hasn’t stopped Newport Harbor from moving up to the No. 2 ranking in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 poll, after starting the season ranked No. 6.
When Newport Harbor made the final of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions on Jan. 11, it was the Sailors’ first tournament title match appearance since 2014. And when the Sailors won 10-4 at rival Corona del Mar on Thursday night, it was Newport Harbor’s first Battle of the Bay win since 2015.
Back then, it was late coach Bill Barnett in charge, in his final year of 49 years coaching at the school.
“We have a freshman starting goalie who’s amazing [in Anna Reed], but I think a lot of people thought we were real young and might not be as good this year as we are next year,” Giolas said. “I think the way that we play and perform just shows our determination and our grit. This team does have a lot of young players, but we’ve all really come together and decided that this is the year. We want to win now, and we’ve just gone into it with that attitude.
“Everybody underestimated us … and we want to show that we’re as good as we are. This team, we have a lot of fight, and I think it has shown up and it will continue to show up.”
Sophomore attackers Taylor Smith and Morgan Netherton are both strong players for coach Ross Sinclair’s Sailors, and fellow sophomore Lily Gess scored a match-high four goals on Thursday.
Giolas has shown the ability to impact the game in a number of ways. She was an all-tournament team selection at the Tournament of Champions and played a key role in the 10-9 comeback win over Orange Lutheran in the quarterfinals. Giolas drew six exclusions as Newport Harbor rallied from a 7-3 halftime deficit.
Giolas scored a match-high five goals as the Sailors beat Los Alamitos 8-2 on Jan. 16, picking up their first Surf League win. She said she has gained inspiration by watching the domination of Newport Harbor’s Stanford-bound senior center Ike Love and junior Eli Liechty in boys’ water polo.
“It’s nice to have someone show you, OK, this is how you’re really supposed to do it,” Giolas said. “I’m still working on it. Hopefully I’ll get to the point where I’m as dominant as them.”
Giolas hopes to help lead the Sailors to the Division 1 title match, like Love did twice for the Sailors boys. That’s another place that Newport Harbor’s girls haven’t been since 2014.
Sinclair is a big Los Angeles Lakers fan and said he likes to kid with Giolas, who is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, and follows the Utah Jazz. He has seen Giolas develop into a valuable center on offense and defense for the Sailors, kind of like Rudy Gobert for the Jazz.
“She wants it, and nothing’s going to hold her back from it,” Sinclair said. “She’s super-determined, which is awesome. What I see every day is 100% effort from her, not just physically but mentally. It’s rare that you get that from someone … As good of an offensive center as she is, she’s also an extremely talented perimeter and center defender. She’s super-versatile, which is a huge luxury for us.”
Four of Newport Harbor’s five losses have come to top-ranked Laguna Beach, including twice in tournaments and twice in league. Should the Sailors perform well in the final major tournament — the Irvine Southern California Championships, which begin on Jan. 30 — they would likely lock up the No. 2 seed in Division 1. That would likely put them on the opposite side of the bracket from the defending champion Breakers (19-1, 4-0 in league).
“They’re the bar right now,” Giolas said. “They’re the best. Each time that we play them, it’s a new thing to improve upon and take as a positive. The more that we’ve watched film and run through stuff in practice, I think we all really feel confident that we’re good enough. If we put together a full game, we can go and try and win it.”
Born: April 8, 2003
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Height: 5 feet 8
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Ross Sinclair
Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese
Favorite movie: “The Princess Bride”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping Newport Harbor place second in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions this year.
Week in review: Giolas scored a match-high five goals in an 8-2 Surf League win over Los Alamitos on Jan. 16 at Corona del Mar High.
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