Newport Harbor boys’ water polo tops rival CdM for third place at South Coast Tournament
After four years of varsity water polo at Newport Harbor High, two-time Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year Ben Liechty has graduated and is now at UCLA.
But wait a minute. Who is that new guy, also a left-hander, who is turning heads on the four-five side for the Sailors now?
It might be an unfamiliar name to some, but sophomore Mason Netzer is making waves in the starting lineup.
“Ben was almost like a coach to me in a way,” Netzer said. “He’s a really big impact on how I’m playing right now, I think. When I first got moved up, I honestly didn’t know much, but after being here with Ben and training with him, learning from him, he’s really built me as a person for that one year I was with him.”
The Sailors, who won the CIF Southern Section Open Division title each of the last two years, have some young talent. They know that “three-peats” aren’t easy, but they’re ready to give it their best shot.
On Saturday, they checked a win over their Back Bay rivals off their list.
Senior center Peter Castillo scored five goals as the Sailors beat Corona del Mar 11-8 in the third-place match of the South Coast Tournament at Newport Harbor High.
The scheduled Battle of the Bay isn’t until the last match of the regular season on Oct. 27, but the teams still got in a much earlier tournament clash on Saturday.
“It’s fun to go up against these guys,” Castillo said. “Historically, it’s just fun to battle against them, and going up 1-0 on them, it feels great … All the respect to them. I’ve known those guys for a really long time. It’s just awesome to watch them grow. Who doesn’t like better competition?”
Both local teams had lost their South Coast Tournament semifinal matches earlier Saturday. Top-seeded JSerra beat CdM 14-10, then Studio City Harvard-Westlake topped Newport Harbor 12-9.
JSerra went on to win the tournament for the first time, beating Harvard-Westlake 14-7 in the final.
Newport Harbor (7-1) played this weekend without standout senior defender Gavin Appeldorn, who coach Ross Sinclair got poked in the eye at practice on Tuesday. Another primary defender, senior Trey Smith, was kicked out twice in the first quarter against CdM (9-3).
But Sinclair said senior Jack Wright, who had a goal and a team-best three steals, and junior goalkeeper Luke Harris (seven saves and two steals) both had perhaps their best games of the season.
Kai Kaneko scored twice for the Sailors, including a buzzer-beater from beyond half court to end the first half. The goal gave the hosts a 7-3 lead.
Kaneko is also a member of the talented sophomore class and a transfer from Mater Dei. Connor Ohl, from Greenwich, Conn., is another sophomore transfer who will become eligible on Sept. 25.
Netzer, Kaneko and Ohl are all on the roster of this year’s USA Water Polo Men’s Cadet National Team.
“We’ve talked about the expectation, playing to the legacy of this program,” Sinclair said. “Every game, people are going to get excited to play. Of course, CdM adds even more motivation with it being a rivalry game. They’re super-talented, so for us, we wanted to focus on bouncing back from not a very good semifinal game. I thought we did a better job of getting some rhythm and connecting with some teammates, which was great.”
Owen Tift, Netzer (two assists and a penalty shot drawn) and Dash D’Ambrosia also scored for the Sailors.
Jackson Harlan scored five goals for CdM, which could be proud that it earned its first top-four finish at the tournament in head coach Kareem Captan’s six-year tenure. Charles Warmington scored twice and Luke Zimmerman, who had scored the game-winning goal in a tournament quarterfinal win over Oaks Christian on Friday, added one goal.
Senior goalkeeper Chase Campbell made nine saves for the Sea Kings, coming off winning the Santa Barbara Invitational tournament on Sept. 9. Senior center Camren Simoncelli drew five exclusions.
“Overall, I’m very proud of the boys and the effort and intensity that they brought,” Captan said. “I think it’s really obvious that this group of guys wants to work hard for each other, and that’s really what is going to make this team great. I think the adjustments that we need to make are the easy part ... There’s no steps backward. This team can really show a lot in October and November, and that’s really what we’re focusing on.”
Newport Harbor opens Surf League play at Los Alamitos on Wednesday, the same day that CdM hosts Fountain Valley to begin Wave League competition.
Huntington Beach beats Laguna Beach for 13th place
Huntington Beach beat Laguna Beach, 12-8, in the 13th place match of the South Coast Tournament on Saturday at CdM.
Senior Diego Audebert had five goals for the Breakers (8-5) in the losing effort.
Huntington Beach improved to 7-4.
The teams play again Wednesday in a Surf League opener, hosted by the Oilers.
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