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Newport 18U girls strike gold at USA Water Polo Junior Olympics

The Newport Beach Water Polo Club 18-and-under girls celebrate after winning the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics title.
The Newport Beach Water Polo Club 18-and-under girls celebrate after winning the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics title Sunday at Stanford University.
(Courtesy of Frank Aronoff)

Newport girls’ water polo earned a remarkable double on Sunday at Stanford University.

Five months after winning the CIF Southern Section Open Division title with Newport Harbor High, largely the same group of girls struck gold again in the club arena at the highest level.

Newport Beach Water Polo Club edged SET Black, 9-7, for the 18-and-under platinum title at Session Two of the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics.

Newport Harbor’s class of 2022 — Morgan Netherton, Taylor Smith, Lily Gess, Alex Love, Paige Naegle, Isabel Del Villar and Makaelee Hansberger — bucked tradition. Instead of going off to all-star club teams the summer before college, they stayed with their high school teammates.

The result was another unprecedented title for coach Ross Sinclair’s team.

“It was the perfect ending for my class and my group with Newport,” said Netherton, who had three goals and two assists in the final, in a phone interview Monday. “I don’t think it would have felt right to play for a different club, or to participate in JOs not playing for Newport. It was very fulfilling to have one last tournament with my teammates, and on top of that, to win it all. It was amazing.”

Smith scored two goals in the final for Newport Beach, while Avery Montiel, Chiara Amoroso, Caitlin Stayt and Harper Price had one goal each. Incoming senior goalkeeper Anna Reed made seven saves and was selected tournament MVP.

Newport beat SET, largely comprised of stars from Laguna Beach, Santa Margarita and Orange Lutheran high schools, for the second time in the tournament. Newport also earned a 7-6 win in the quarterfinals Saturday.

In the first meeting, SET took a 3-0 lead before Newport rallied. But in the final, it was Newport that jumped out to the 3-0 first-quarter advantage behind goals from Netherton, Stayt and Smith.

Reed had mostly lost her voice by Monday, but what wasn’t lost on her was the significance of another title. Newport Beach finished runner-up in the 18U division last year.

“It’s really surreal,” Reed said. “This group has been together for so long, and I feel like the year we had together just really sums up the camaraderie of the group and how well we can play together.”

Orange Lutheran graduate Anna Pearson led SET Black with three goals, and Laguna Beach High graduate Ava Houlahan was also among the goal-scorers.

The SET Black 16U girls celebrate after winning the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics title Sunday.
(Courtesy of Ally Beck)

SET 16s win title

The SET Black 16U team, which featured several players from Laguna Beach High, also came through with a victory in the platinum division.

SET Black, coached by Ally Beck, beat San Diego Shores 11-6 in the final at Stanford on Sunday. SET goalkeeper Sophia Bunnell, who also plays for Santa Margarita, earned MVP accolades.

Sofia Umeda led SET with three goals, and Laguna Beach incoming sophomore Kara Carver scored twice, as did Hannah McClaskey and Michelle Urkov.

Laguna Beach incoming junior Emmy Hensley and incoming sophomore Presley Jones were also among the goal-scorers for SET, which also featured Claire Turner of Laguna Beach.

Hensley was one of three players on last year’s SET 16U team, which lost in the Junior Olympics final to Santa Barbara 805.

“Even though we weren’t playing 805, which was the team that we actually expected to play in the final, we still had that fire in our belly,” said Hensley, who won her third Junior Olympic title. “Before every quarter, we played with that. It definitely helped us a lot, knowing that the feeling of losing isn’t fun.”

Two others from Laguna Beach notched another title on their impressive resumés. Jones won the sixth Junior Olympics championship of her club career, and it was the fifth title for Carver.

“Coming together from all different high schools, in the beginning it felt almost impossible to reach our goal, winning JOs, in such limited time,” Carver said in a text message. “But as time went on and we practiced together and put in the effort and hard work, we made it happen. We found a way to bond with one another and have fun, which in the end I think was one of the biggest differences.”

Vanguard wins 12s, finishes as 14s runner-up

Vanguard Aquatics, based in Huntington Beach, won the 12U platinum division title. Vanguard beat SB 805 7-5 in the final Sunday and Camryn Spruill of Vanguard, who scored three goals in the final, earned MVP honors.

Taytum Banda also scored three goals for Vanguard in the title match, with Lucy Forrester adding a goal.

The team was coached by Kelly Doherty.

In the 14U platinum division final, it was SB 805 that earned a 12-11 win over Vanguard. Elizabeth Nicoloff led Vanguard with four goals, and Isabella Jurgensen added three goals.

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