Newport Harbor water polo rules the pool

Newport Harbor's girls' water polo team celebrates its CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship.
Newport Harbor’s girls’ water polo team celebrates its CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship after beating Laguna Beach 11-6 at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine on Saturday.
(Raul Roa)

The members of the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team celebrated in the pool and sang the school’s alma mater, in unison with the robed boys’ water polo team members in the stands.

No one can deny that the Sailors rule the pool.

The Newport Harbor girls joined the boys as inaugural CIF Southern Section Open Division champions on Saturday night in emphatic fashion. Top-seeded Newport Harbor scored the first five goals of the match, blitzing No. 2 Laguna Beach in an 11-6 victory.

Ring season has come for both of the Sailors’ teams, as head coach Ross Sinclair became the first coach to win both boys’ and girls’ water polo CIF titles in the top division in the same school year. The only other time a school accomplished the feat, it was also Newport Harbor in 2007-08.


Junior left-hander Avery Montiel, playing against many of her former club teammates, scored four goals for the Sailors (26-1). Seniors Bia Mantellato and Morgan Netherton added three goals each for Newport Harbor in its 19th straight victory.

Goalkeeper Anna Reed holds up the title plaque as the Newport Harbor girls' water polo team celebrates Saturday's title.
(Raul Roa)

“I’m still processing it right now,” said Netherton, who added three assists and three steals in the final. “But we wanted to this for each other, and our program and Ross in general, I know he really wanted it bad. Obviously, we did too. But having the boys come out and support us shows our tight-knit community, which is really, really rad. To do that for our school and our program was amazing. I’m just so happy right now.”

Newport Harbor won its first CIF title since 2018, and the first in the top division since 2012. The Sailors were considered a favorite to win the Open Division title even before the addition of Mantellato, a foreign exchange student from Brazil, and they delivered Saturday night under the lights.

Sophomore center Ryan Chalupnik added a goal for the Sailors, and junior goalkeeper Anna Reed made nine saves.

Newport Harbor's Avery Montiel takes a shot on goal in the CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship game Saturday.
(Raul Roa)

The Newport Harbor attack was crisp, converting six of seven power-play chances and drawing three penalty shots. Mantellato and senior defender Lily Gess each had two steals to lead the defensive effort for the Sailors, who led 6-2 at halftime.

“We obviously were prepared and the girls executed a great game plan,” Sinclair said. “I thought tonight was the best game we played all year. The extra passes that led to those easy opportunities was incredible.”

The best game came at the best time for the Sailors, who beat the Breakers for the fourth time in the teams’ five meetings this season.

“I don’t know if anyone’s going to beat them, the way they played tonight,” Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said. “Regardless of what we did, I think they played well and put us in a lot of tough positions. In every facet of the game, they play well. They’re extremely well-coached and they play somebody really, really strong at every position in the pool.”

Laguna Beach shows the CIF Southern Section Open Division runner-up plaque after Saturday's match.
(Raul Roa)

Senior Ava Houlahan scored three goals for the Breakers, who didn’t get closer than four goals in the second half.

Ava Knepper, London Boyd and Kara Carver added one goal each for Laguna Beach (25-6). Junior goalkeeper Lauren Schneider made three saves before giving way to Natasha Denny, who also made a save in the fourth quarter.

Damato said he was proud of his group, which returned to the title match after winning Division 1 titles in 2019 and 2020.

Laguna Beach's Charlotte Riches, center, is pressured by defenders in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game.
Laguna Beach’s Charlotte Riches, center, is pressured by defenders in the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship game.
(Raul Roa)

As for the Sailors, they reveled in the moment. Mantellato called it one of the best experiences of her life.

“I feel like we were just waiting for this the entire season,” she said. “We were focusing to go step by step and not think ahead, just focus on the moment and what we had to do to get there. But we knew what our biggest goal was, and we got here. Laguna is a great team, but we were just waiting for this for so long. I haven’t been with the girls for four years, but I feel like I have. We played for each other and played like a family, and that’s what made us successful.”

Both teams have qualified for next week’s CIF State Southern California Regional playoffs.

Newport Harbor's Morgan Netherton takes a shot on goal under pressure in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game.
(Raul Roa)


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