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Newport Harbor girls’ water polo rallies for historic Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions title

Members of the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team are all smiles after winning a tournament.
Members of the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team are all smiles after winning the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions on Saturday.
(Matt Szabo)
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Once the all-day rain had stopped and the tournament was over, Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions tournament director Mark Walsh approached Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair.

The Sailors had just completed a wild comeback, earning a 13-11 overtime win over league rival Laguna Beach on Saturday in the Tournament of Champions title match at Santa Barbara High. Walsh needed a tournament MVP and all-tournament team selection from Sinclair, and he was apologetic about having to ask.

“Sorry about that,” Walsh said. “I know it’s been a while since you’ve done this.”

Sinclair quickly responded.

“Never. We’ve never won.”

Walsh’s mouth opened in surprise, but it was true. The Sailors may have won six CIF Southern Section titles, but the title at the toughest in-season tournament had always eluded their grasp. They have finished runner-up 10 times.

But junior center Ryan Chalupnik scored five goals as the No. 7-seeded Sailors (15-3) made history Saturday, completing a difficult run through the bracket for the TOC title. Senior goalkeeper Anna Reed, who made 10 saves in the title match, earned tournament MVP honors, and Chalupnik was an all-tournament team selection.

Newport Harbor goalkeeper Anna Reed, shown making a save last year, was named the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions MVP.
Newport Harbor goalkeeper Anna Reed, shown making a save last year, was named the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions MVP.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“It was a great team weekend,” Reed said. “We had a great time as a team, in and out of the pool. The Newport culture has always been that team wins are really important, and these were really big team wins for us. They’re going to be really helpful to look back on as we move through the season.”

The Sailors might also look back on their furious comeback in the final against No. 4-seeded Laguna Beach (10-5), three days after losing to the Breakers in a Surf League match.

Newport Harbor trailed 10-7 on Saturday when Sinclair called timeout with 3:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Caitlin Stayt scored a goal out of the timeout, and Newport was off and running. Harper Price added an inside goal assisted by Angie Peterson, then it was Peterson’s turn.

She buried a shot at the shot-clock buzzer, tying the score at 10-10 with 29 seconds left. The match would go to overtime.

“I knew there wasn’t much time left, and they were just dropping off me,” Peterson said. “Ross always tells me to start shooting more and being more confident in my shots, so I started to try and do that.”

Peterson scored again into the near corner with nine seconds remaining in the first overtime period, then she fed Chalupnik inside on a redirect goal in the final minute of the second overtime to put the match away.

Senior Chiara Amoroso overcame early foul trouble for a goal and three steals for the winners, who also got three steals and a penalty shot drawn by Sofia Del Villar.

Sinclair said the young team, which continues playing without talented senior left-hander Avery Montiel (shoulder) and had just two seniors in the water in Reed and Amoroso, has been progressing all season long.

“I don’t think we have lower expectations,” he said. “It’s just being patient, right? There"s a process to everything. We have a style of play that we want to play. There’s a little bit of grit that we play with, there’s a grind. It may not be pretty, we’re not all superstars, but as a team, everyone has to fill responsibilities. Once we start to see that, the success comes.”

Senior center Charlotte Riches and senior attacker Cleo Washer were all-tournament team selections for Laguna Beach. Riches and Ava Knepper led with two goals each in the final for the Breakers, who were coming off a big 10-7 win in the semifinals against top-seeded and previously unbeaten Orange Lutheran earlier Saturday.

Cleo Washer of Laguna Beach was a Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions all-tournament team selection.
Cleo Washer of Laguna Beach, shown shooting during the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup tournament last year, was a Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions all-tournament team selection.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Riches scored five goals in that match, while sophomore Presley Jones had two goals and four steals. Breakers coach Claire Sonne praised the team’s defensive effort in the semifinals, which saw senior goalkeeper Lauren Schneider make nine saves and collect two steals.

“I think it’s about consistency in doing the little things right all the time,” Sonne said. “You can’t choose when to put the effort into those little things defensively and offensively. I think the team kind of took a deep breath after this morning’s game [against Orange Lutheran] and didn’t bring the intensity and fire to this game [against Newport Harbor]. We were flat … It’s exciting to see how great we can be, and then it’s also disappointing to see how inconsistent we can be.”

Chalupnik paced the Sailors with five goals in their 9-8 win over another league rival, Los Alamitos, in the semifinals. Del Villar had three big goals, including Newport Harbor’s last two of the match that broke a 7-7 tie.

Corona del Mar places sixth

Corona del Mar also had a successful weekend, despite a tough loss to the Foothill in the fifth-place match on Saturday.

CdM, which was seeded 11th, outperformed that seeding by five spots. The Sea Kings split their matches Saturday, beating Santa Barbara San Marcos 15-11 before falling to Foothill 10-9 on a last-second shot by Knights left-hander Ashley Kwan.

Sophomore center Reagan Weir, who had a team-best four goals against Foothill, was an all-tournament team selection for CdM (9-6).

CdM's Reagan Weir (11) was a Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions all-tournament team selection.
CdM’s Reagan Weir (11), shown shooting during the Battle of the Bay match, was a Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions all-tournament team selection.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I’m happy about it,” said senior Aubrie Anderson, who had two goals, two assists and three steals in the fifth-place match. “We started off strong, and we kind of had a rough second game [an 11-1 quarterfinal loss to Los Alamitos]. But we picked it up again this morning. Even though we lost [against Foothill], I feel like it was a good way to end.”

Fellow senior Makena Macedo, who had a pair of goals in the fifth-place match, nodded.

“We haven’t been this close to Foothill in a long time,” she said. “Last time we played them, we lost by four.”

CdM senior Jillian Schlom had two assists, three steals and three field blocks against Foothill, and senior goalkeeper Sarah Decker made seven saves and had a pair of steals.

CdM, last year’s Division 1 champion, is in an interesting position. It remains to be seen if the Sea Kings return to Division 1 to defend their title, or finish the regular season top-eight to move up to the Open Division.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Macedo said. “We beat [Santa Margarita], we beat Bishop’s [School of La Jolla], we beat San Marcos. We’ve beaten a lot of teams above us, so we just want to kind of see where it goes. In the end, we’ll see what we’re fighting for.”

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