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Newport Harbor boys’ water polo finishes as runner-up in SoCal Regional Division I final

Newport Harbor's Gavin Appeldorn shoots against JSerra during the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title match.
Newport Harbor’s Gavin Appeldorn shoots against JSerra during the first half in the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title match on Saturday in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Members of the Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team gave each other high-fives after the final whistle on Saturday at the Sailors’ pool deck.

The CIF State Southern California Regional Division I title match did not go the Sailors’ way, but there was still love to dish out. Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said his team gives high-fives after every match, partially a nod to two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, who was known as a big proponent of the action during his playing days.

“Win or lose, we make sure everyone high-fives,” Sinclair said. “Make contact with every athlete, that’s the goal.”

To be sure, the Sailors had plenty to high-five about this season. A week after winning the CIF Southern Section Open Division title, Newport Harbor lost to JSerra 11-8 on Saturday in a rematch with the regional title on the line.

Junior Ryder Dodd scored a match-high six goals for the Lions (30-3). But the final loss did nothing to diminish what the Sailors (30-3) accomplished this season, Sinclair said, including the program’s 14th CIF Southern Section championship.

Newport Harbor's Ben Liechty (13) shoots as he is smacked in the face by JSerra's William Schneider (10) on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“I was so proud of these guys for the season they had,” Sinclair said. “A week ago, we did something really special, and these guys are still obviously on an extremely-high high that they deserve. I’m really thrilled with the way our season went. Winning CIF is so awesome.

“The one thing we stress is just how fun it is to play with this group. The next time these guys will play together will be an alumni game, and so this little tournament — it’s nice to be able to get to play together again.”

Finn LeSieur and Peter Castillo led Newport Harbor with two goals each, while Owen Bartlett, Jack Wright, Gavin Netherton and Nick Kennedy added one strike apiece. Senior goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud made six saves.

The match was tied at 7-7 entering the fourth quarter, but Dodd scored, then JSerra added a power-play goal from Andrew Vangrin as Mathisrud was excluded.

Newport Harbor's Finn LeSieur, left, scores against JSerra during the first half of Saturday's match.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Bartlett’s outside shot brought Newport Harbor back within one, but Dodd and Bode Brinkema added goals for JSerra to finalize the scoring.

Dodd said the Lions had light practices throughout the week.

“From the beginning of the regionals, starting on Tuesday, our goal was to get another shot at Newport,” he said. “We were definitely not taking this week lightly.”

Sinclair, who spent time coaching a girls’ water polo practice at the end of Saturday’s match, now will switch seasons. While Newport Harbor’s boys have won two straight Open Division titles, the girls are also defending Open Division champions.

“High school sports is so awesome,” he said. “It’s a four-year experience, and some of these guys were fortunate enough to win two in a row, which is really rare. Even if you don’t win, you still look back on every game you played and it eventually ends. We talked about that. It was the last game that we’re going to have this group together, so let’s enjoy this opportunity to play at home as a group and celebrate the success that we had this season.”

Newport Harbor goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud stretches on a save attempt against JSerra during the first half Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

From that standpoint, it was definitely mission accomplished, senior left-hander Ben Liechty said.

“We’re just still riding the high off last weekend, winning CIF,” he said. “That was our goal for the season, and we were able to accomplish that last weekend. We were just happy to play with each other one last time.”

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