Newport Harbor boys’ water polo finishes off remarkable season with SoCal Regional title
The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team held a senior dinner a couple of weeks ago.
Senior co-captain Mason Hunt said a slideshow was played, with pictures of the boys when they were in 10-and-under club water polo for Newport.
“I think there’s one with Ben [Liechty] on my shoulders, Billy [Rankin] next to me, Cole [Borggreve] next to me,” Hunt said. “Just those looking at those pictures, it makes me smile. It’s not a team of superstars who have been recruited from different areas. It’s our local kids who have grinded together for 10 years, and it feels good to be able to showcase that.”
When they won the inaugural CIF Southern Section Open Division title on Nov. 13, the Sailors became the first public school since 2009 to win the title in the top division. But regardless of any metric, Newport Harbor had a season that can only be defined as extraordinary.
They capped it off Saturday night in their home pool. Top-seeded Newport Harbor beat No. 3-seeded Mater Dei 10-6 to win the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I title.
To be sure, the seniors did not go out quietly for coach Ross Sinclair’s Sailors (29-5). Senior left-hander and co-captain Gage Verdegaal had a match-high four goals, while Hunt had two goals and two assists. Rankin had three steals and an assist for the Sailors, and Richie Rimlinger had a goal, an assist and a field block.
“I think it’s just a culmination of hard work and belief in each other that’s allowed us to be successful,” said the Harvard-bound Hunt, who has a 4.0 unweighted grade-point average during his time at Newport Harbor.
“Every team’s unique, but it’s a great feeling. We’ve played together for almost 10 years now. I’ve trusted these guys for 10 years. I think that was showcased tonight, but also, last Saturday in our win against Huntington.”
Sophomore center Peter Castillo had two goals and four exclusions drawn for the Sailors. Liechty, a junior left-hander, had a goal, four assists and four steals.
Junior goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud, whose play has impressed throughout the postseason run, made eight saves.
“It’s great to see his improvement,” Hunt said. “I think he’s still trending up.”
The Sailors definitely were trending that way at the end of the season. They earned their second win over Mater Dei (26-4) in 11 days, after also beating the Monarchs in the Open Division semifinals on Nov. 10.
Newport Harbor never trailed in the second half. After Carter Loth scored at two meters for Mater Dei to bring the visitors within 6-5 with 2:56 left in the third quarter, the Monarchs could score just once more.
“I think it was just the energy,” Verdegaal said. “Cooper had another phenomenal game ... and that really gave us the energy to get back on the other end and start producing on the offensive side.”
Hunt and Verdegaal both scored counterattack strikes assisted by Liechty. And after Castillo punched in a rebound goal, the Sailors suddenly had a 9-5 lead with 5:35 remaining in the game.
Loth led Mater Dei with three goals, and Luke Redoutey added two.
Newport Harbor ended its season on an eight-match winning streak, and as Hunt pointed out, made the finals of every tournament in which it participated.
“We lost to Mater Dei in the South Coast Tournament and we lost to Sacred Heart in the Elite 12 Tournament, but regardless, it’s really good experience,” Hunt said. “At the end of the day, our real goal was winning CIF, and those were the building blocks that helped get us to that.
“This is kind of the cherry on top, to be able to play together one more time and feel that brotherhood, that chemistry. It felt good. It was a special opportunity.”
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