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Newport Harbor girls’ soccer rallies to top CdM in Battle of the Bay

Newport Harbor celebrates a goal against Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay girls' soccer match on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laine Briggs is a libero — a defensive specialist — for the Newport Harbor High girls’ volleyball team.

Now that the season has turned to winter, though, it’s time for her to let her offensive skills shine.

She continued her hot play Thursday night in the Battle of the Bay match at rival Corona del Mar. Briggs scored on a header off Antonella Russo’s corner kick in the 62nd minute, the go-ahead goal as Newport Harbor rallied for a 2-1 victory.

Briggs has four goals and two assists in the Sailors’ last four matches. More importantly to her, Newport Harbor has won each match.

The junior got ahold of the header in the box, placing it into the right corner.

“It’s not always just goal-scorer, goal-scorer,” she said. “My teammates help me score those goals; it’s not just me. I’m very grateful for all of those assists that everyone gives me. I try not to be bragging and all that.”

Newport Harbor's Anto Russo (10) battles Corona del Mar's Brea Sofferman during Battle of the Bay girls' soccer on Thursday.
Newport Harbor’s Anto Russo (10) battles Corona del Mar’s Brea Sofferman at midfield during the Battle of the Bay on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Sailors (9-8-4) could brag collectively about coming back from an early deficit on the road against their rivals. Sophomore forward Payton Vovan gave CdM the early lead Thursday in the second minute, taking a through ball from Erin Jones and knocking it in.

Newport Harbor answered just before halftime. Brielle Benedict’s cross from the right went just under the arm of diving CdM goalkeeper Sydney Walls and found the foot of Sam Wallis, who found the back of the net.

Pulling even at halftime proved key for the visitors, who were missing their head coach for the second straight match. Justin Schroeder said in a text message that he tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, and top assistant Dallas Jaussi was out of town.

Tisha Hoch, a former U.S. women’s national team player, shared the coaching duties for Newport Harbor with Garrett Govaars.

“Our girls battled and fought back,” Govaars said. “Getting that equalizer at the end of the first half really set the tone for us for the second half. Not the way you want to start, but the girls responded and played really hard and stuck together.”

Newport Harbor's Sam Wallis (19) scores in the Battle of the Bay girls' soccer match on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor improved to 4-0-4 in its last eight matches against Corona del Mar.

The Sailors’ back line, anchored by center backs Emmie Degan and Ally Thomas, blanked the Sea Kings in the second half. Senior goalkeeper Emily Park made a diving stop on Jones’ attempt in the 47th minute.

Degan was a midfielder last year for the Sailors and Thomas played forward, but they were pulled back to defense after the graduation of Samara Golan and Jenna McConnaughey. Players like Delaney Gahm and Stella Gaffney also aided the Sailors’ defensive effort Thursday.

“I think our defense has been doing very well,” Benedict said. “I don’t want to say that’s been our weakest point, but it’s been our most improved. Last year, we lost our whole back line of seniors.”

Though Thursday’s match was a Sunset Conference crossover match, Newport Harbor sits in first place halfway through Wave League play with a 3-0 record. Corona del Mar (12-4-2), meanwhile, has dropped its first three Surf League matches.

Newport Harbor's Alexis Thomas and CdM's Payton Vovan (24) get tangled up during Thursday's match.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

CdM coach Bryan Middleton isn’t panicking. He knows his team is ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division 2 and should be secure for a playoff spot with a stellar overall record, even if it doesn’t get an automatic bid from league.

The Sea Kings have missed senior defender/midfielder Jane Paulsen, who has been out the last two matches after suffering a concussion against Edison.

Middleton went as far as to say his team should be in the lower Wave League, and that Newport Harbor should be in the Surf League along with Edison, Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos.

“We’re preparing ourselves for the playoffs,” Middleton said. “We’re going to keep working hard and take it one game at a time. I mean, our play is positive on the field. We’re a little bit young up top, and we’re just hoping to find the back of the net in some of these future games.”

Newport Harbor hosts Edison on Tuesday, while CdM plays at Laguna Beach.

Newport Harbor's Brielle Benedict gets tangled up with CdM's Emily Chanawatr (13) during Thursday's match.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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