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Newport Harbor boys’ water polo hands Harvard-Westlake first loss of season

Newport Harbor's Finn LeSieur (7) scores for the Sailors' water polo team during a match against Harvard-Westlake.
Newport Harbor’s Finn LeSieur (7) scores for the Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team during Saturday’s match against Harvard-Westlake.
(James Carbone)

Ross Sinclair is teaching a new emergency medical response class at Newport Harbor High this fall.

In addition to world history and two swim classes, he’s also leading two EMR classes at his alma mater.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Sinclair said.

The state of Sinclair’s Newport Harbor boys’ water polo team is anything but a state of emergency.

Coming off winning the inaugural CIF Southern Section Open Division title last year, the Sailors look like a serious contender to defend that crown. On Saturday they edged Studio City Harvard-Westlake 12-11 at home in an early-season nonleague battle of unbeaten teams.

Newport Harbor's Gavin Appledorn (14) scores past Harvard-Westlake's Daniel Mnatsakanian during Saturday's nonleague match.
(James Carbone)

Senior Finn LeSieur scored a match-high four goals for the Sailors (3-0), adding three assists and three steals.

LeSieur earned playing time last year but was behind graduates like Mason Hunt and Billy Rankin. He is one of a few Sailors, including juniors Gavin Appeldorn and Owen Tift, with much bigger roles on varsity this year for Newport Harbor.

Appeldorn, a defender who is a member of the U.S. men’s cadet national team, had a goal and an assist.

“I think it’s just the bar that gets set,” Sinclair said. “You see kids watching these games that live here and can’t wait to play here. When they’re here, there’s an expectation. Last year’s seniors obviously set the bar as high as it could get, and now it’s like, ‘It’s your time.’ There’s no let down; there’s an expectation.”

Newport Harbor has had a rivalry with Harvard-Westlake (5-1), the team that beat the Sailors in the 2018 and 2019 Division 1 title matches, for a few years now. The Wolverines are now coached by former UCLA standout Jack Grover, after Brian Flacks left to take the men’s water polo coaching job at Stanford.

Newport Harbor's Ben Liecthy (13) passes over Harvard-Westlake's Jack Burghardt (18) during Saturday's match.
(James Carbone)

The Sailors opened up a three-goal lead, at 6-3, late in the second quarter when LeSieur scored on a no-look power-play goal. But the Wolverines’ Jeff Koretz struck just before halftime. The visitors also scored the first four goals of the third quarter.

After Jack Burghardt scored inside, Harvard-Westlake had an 8-6 lead with 2:06 remaining in the quarter. Sinclair called timeout.

“The momentum was definitely in their favor, but we try to keep it controlled,” LeSieur said. “We’re just always maintaining our confidence, trying to get that momentum back. We just keep playing our way.”

LeSieur scored from center and again on an outside shot, tying the score at 8-8. He then won the fourth-quarter sprint, drew an exclusion and assisted on Peter Castillo’s goal.

Newport built a 12-9 lead before Harvard-Westlake scored two late goals.

Newport Harbor's Jack Wright (6) sneaks it past Harvard-Westlake goalkeeper Baxter Chelsom (1) during Saturday's match.
Newport Harbor’s Jack Wright (6) sneaks it past Harvard-Westlake goalkeeper Baxter Chelsom (1) during Saturday’s match.
(James Carbone)

Castillo, Finn Genc and Ben Liechty all added two goals each for the Sailors, and Jack Wright also scored. Genc and Liechty, last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year, each had two assists, while senior goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud made three saves.

Castillo put in work at center and drew six exclusions for the Sailors, who finished just 4 for 14 with the extra player. Harvard-Westlake went 1 for 3 on power plays, also converting a pair of penalty shots.

“It’s about getting those reps, not only in practice but also in games against a good team,” Sinclair said. “Defensively, their goalie is quality, they have a lot of length in front of the cage. It’s not an easy out ... [but] this is going to be the best game ever to watch on film. There’s so many things we did well, and things we did not do well.”

Koretz, Burghardt, Jaxson Tierney and Otto Stothart each scored two goals to lead Harvard-Westlake, while goalkeeper Baxter Chelsom made eight saves.

Both teams are competing in the South Coast Tournament next weekend.

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