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Newport Harbor girls’ water polo earns strong win over Laguna Beach

Newport Harbor's Anna Reed attempts to block a shot from Laguna Beach's Ava Houlahan.
Newport Harbor’s Anna Reed attempts to block a shot from Laguna Beach’s Ava Houlahan during Tuesday’s Surf League match.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team came out strong in both the first and second halves on Tuesday night.

It was a solid recipe for success in the Sailors’ Surf League match against Laguna Beach.

Senior center Bia Mantellato scored five goals as Newport Harbor earned a 15-8 win, staying perfect in league play with two matches remaining.

Senior Morgan Netherton had four goals and four assists for the Sailors (13-1, 4-0 in league), the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1. Senior Taylor Smith added three goals for Newport Harbor, which has now beaten No. 2-ranked Laguna Beach (13-3, 1-2) twice in league to avenge its only loss, a 10-9 setback in the title match of the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup.

The Sailors can clinch at least a share of the league title with a win over Los Alamitos on Thursday at 5:10 p.m. at Newport Harbor High. The Griffins, who are tied for third in the Division 1 rankings with Orange Lutheran and Foothill, are 2-1 in league.

Newport Harbor blitzed Laguna Beach in Tuesday’s match, opening up a 5-1 lead after the first quarter. Mantellato scored four of the goals, and three of them came on the power play.

Laguna Beach's Ava Knepper defends against Newport Harbor's Taylor Smith during Tuesday's Surf League match.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“It was a really good start,” Smith said. “We came out strong. I don’t think the score really affected us. We’ve been talking about not continuously looking at the scoreboard during the game, just keeping your head in the game and the outcome will come.”

After Mantellato was excluded for the second time with 5:20 remaining in the half, though, Laguna Beach began to chip away at the lead. Lela McCarroll’s cross-cage goal from 7 meters in the closing seconds of the half brought the Breakers within 6-5.

But the Sailors had another 5-1 quarter in the third, opening up an 11-6 lead. Netherton played a hand in all five goals, scoring three and assisting on two, both to Smith.

“They don’t quit, they play hard,” Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said. “I thought we did a really good job of responding to their little push. I give our girls a lot of credit for staying resilient and not getting caught up with playing with the lead, then it going away a little bit. They hit a couple of nice shots near the end of that second quarter … but we fixed a couple of things at halftime. We made some adjustments in the third and fourth quarter, and obviously it worked out well.”

Junior left-hander Avery Montiel had a goal and four assists for the winners, who also got a goal from senior Lily Gess and one from sophomore Ryan Chalupnik after a nice move at center. Junior goalkeeper Anna Reed made nine saves for the Sailors, who converted five of nine power-play chances.

Laguna Beach's Lela McCarroll looks for an open shot under pressure from Newport Harbor's Avery Montiel on Tuesday.
Laguna Beach’s Lela McCarroll looks for an open shot under pressure from Newport Harbor’s Avery Montiel against during Tuesday’s Surf League match.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“The service into our centers was a lot better,” Sinclair said. “That was one of our better games of the season so far, just our ability to move the ball around, make live entries, making it a lot easier for our centers. Obviously, the centers did a good job of producing.”

Reed agreed with that, with her unique perspective from between the pipes.

“It’s so cool to watch,” she said. “When it just flows, it’s so amazing to watch the team just connect.”

Senior Ava Houlahan scored three goals for the Breakers, who got one goal each from Charlotte Riches, Myha Pinto, McCarroll, Ava Knepper and Emmy Hensley.

Junior goalkeeper Lauren Schneider made four saves for Laguna, including one on a penalty shot, but Breakers coach Ethan Damato knew 15 goals was too many to give up.

“They outplayed us, they outcoached us,” Damato said. “We’ve got to get better ... I think [Mantellato] has had at least four goals in every game that we’ve played against them. We’re continuously giving up easy shots to her. We’ve got to figure out a way to slow her down. She killed us in all three games.”

Laguna Beach continues league play against CdM on Thursday at 4 p.m. at Newport Harbor High.

The Newport Harbor girls' water polo team celebrates after beating Laguna Beach 15-8 in a Surf League match Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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