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Laguna Beach girls' water polo advances to Bill Barnett Holiday Cup semifinals with win at Newport Harbor

Laguna Beach girls' water polo advances to Bill Barnett Holiday Cup semifinals with win at Newport Harbor
Tea Poljak of Laguna Beach High passes the ball under pressure from Newport Harbor's Morgan Netherton in the quarterfinals of the Holiday Cup on Friday. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Holiday Cup girls’ water polo tournament has been renamed the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup, and Newport Harbor High coach Ross Sinclair said it was a no-brainer to make the change.

Barnett, who coached water polo at Newport Harbor for 49 years, passed away Monday at the age of 76. The Holiday Cup has traditionally been the first big girls’ water polo tournament of the season, and the finals are played at Newport Harbor.

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“This is one of the premier tournaments,” Sinclair said. “It was an easy tribute and way to honor his legacy.”

Barnett was the only girls’ water polo coach who owns a winning record over Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato. Barnett’s Sailors teams were 9-7 against Damato’s Breakers, though Damato said it felt like about 20-2.

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“I got some [wins] at the end of his career, but I learned a lot from taking my lumps in the Barnett era,” Damato said. “To coach alongside him was a privilege.”

Barnett retired in 2015. In recent years, Laguna Beach has dominated both against the Sailors and in general.

Laguna Beach is looking to win the tournament for the sixth straight year, and it moved into the semifinals with Friday’s 10-4 win at Newport Harbor.

Top-seeded Laguna Beach (9-0) will play Orange Lutheran in the semifinals on Saturday at 10:40 a.m. at Newport Harbor. Tea Poljak, Rachael Carver and Molly Renner all led the way against Newport Harbor (5-3), scoring two goals each. Each of the three players scored one of her goals on a penalty shot.

I got some [wins] at the end of his career, but I learned a lot from taking my lumps in the Barnett era. To coach alongside him was a privilege.


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Laguna Beach led just 5-3 at halftime but scored four straight goals in the third quarter to pull away. First Carver struck from outside, then Morgan Van Alphen on the counterattack. Cici Stewart added a power-play goal before Renner scored a penalty shot that she drew.

The Breakers held Newport Harbor to just two conversions in 12 power-play chances. Senior goalkeeper Quinn Winter made five saves.

Laguna Beach High's Lela McCarroll, left, and Bryn Gioffredi, right, battle with Newport Harbor's Linnea Kelly in the quarterfinals of the Holiday Cup on Friday.
Laguna Beach High's Lela McCarroll, left, and Bryn Gioffredi, right, battle with Newport Harbor's Linnea Kelly in the quarterfinals of the Holiday Cup on Friday. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“Hat’s off to Newport,” said Damato, whose team earlier in the day beat Edison 23-0 in the first round, behind five goals from Poljak. “They did a nice job. I thought they pressed really well, and they were fired up to play. They’re a good team. We know it’s not going to be easy against anybody in the top 10, 11. We’re going to have to play well to win. I don’t think we played poorly. We’ve just got to play more consistently. We had some great moments, but I’d just like to see those more consistently throughout the game.”

Seniors Kili Skibby, Linnea Kelly, Annie Rankin and Nikki Clark all scored one goal each for the Sailors, who play in a fifth-place semifinal against Mater Dei Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Newport Harbor defeated Santa Barbara 9-8 in the first round earlier on Friday, rallying from a 3-0 deficit.

Sinclair said the Sailors also struggled on six-on-five opportunities against Santa Barbara, converting just one of 10. He said that area is a work in progress for his team, which has a mix of experience and youth.

The Sailors also have four freshmen this year on varsity, in Morgan Netherton, Taylor Smith, Alex Love and Lily Gess. Smith had a team-best three steals for Newport Harbor against Laguna Beach.

“They’re great,” Sinclair said. “They just bring such a good energy to the group. They’re eager to learn, which is really fun as a coach.”

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