The Newport Harbor High girls’ soccer team has come a long way under third-year coach Justin Schroeder.
In the 2015-16 campaign, the season prior to Schroeder’s arrival, the Sailors went 4-13-6.
It has been said that it takes time to build a program, and Schroeder has now brought Newport Harbor to prominence.
The visiting Sailors defeated crosstown rival Corona del Mar 3-0 on Thursday in the Battle of the Bay.
“The Newport Harbor community should be extremely proud of their team,” Sea Kings coach Bryan Middleton said. “Their coach, Justin Schroeder, in the last two-and-a-half years has turned that program completely around.”
Newport Harbor (9-0-3), ranked No. 7 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll, handily won the battle of unbeaten teams, as both sides came in with matching records. The Sailors have now kept a clean sheet in 11 of their 12 matches, including the last nine.
When the final whistle blew, fans on the Newport Harbor sideline put their hands together. The Sailors were only too happy to run through the makeshift tunnel in celebration, though both the players and the coach spoke of the rivalry game as one more step toward a larger goal.
So when asked about winning the Back Bay rivalry game, Emily Johnson toed the party line. The Battle of the Bay just happened to be the next game on the schedule.
“It’s obviously so great to beat our rival, but in the long run, it’s just another opponent that we have to beat,” said Johnson, a senior midfielder. “This isn’t the only [game] we were focusing on winning.”
Schroeder echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
“I think they celebrated because there was a lot leading up to the game,” Schroeder said. “It’s Battle of the Bay. We’re both undefeated. Really, honestly, you hear us say, ‘What’s next? What’s next? Move on. Move on.’ That really has been our mantra. No matter what happens. If we score, if they score, we’re always moving on. We’re always [moving] to the next play.
“The girls are saying the same things the coaches are, and that’s when you know they’ve kind of bought into what we’re doing as a coaching staff and as a program for the last three years.”
Newport Harbor opened the scoring with a beautiful connection in the final third. Skylynn Rodriguez sent a ball into the box for Reese Bodas, who beat the offsides trap and finished on the doorstep in the 19th minute.
With the amount of shutouts that the Sailors have produced this season, sophomore center back Samara Golan was asked how her team feels when it gets an early goal. Newport Harbor has scored three goals in the first 20 minutes of its last two games.
“It’s definitely not like, ‘We have this in the bag,’” Golan said. “It almost puts more pressure on us because when you get one goal, it’s really easy to get overconfident and not keep the level of play up.
“We’ve been really good about keeping our heads and keeping our level of play at 100%.”
The Sea Kings (8-1-3) played the second half without sweeper Avery Doherty (head), which may have contributed to a defensive lapse when Sadie Pitchess was able to draw a penalty on Katharine Caston in the box. Johnson stepped up to the penalty kick and scored on a shot toward the left post, extending Newport Harbor’s lead to 2-0 in the 61st minute.
Kenna Robar capped the scoring with a header off a cross from Alyssa Sims in the 72nd minute.
Although the Sea Kings controlled possession at times, they had difficulty completing passes when they got closer to goal. Megan Chelf, the high-scoring junior striker for CdM, was forced to drop back into the midfield to get more touches with the ball.
Sophomore center backs Jenna McConnaughey and Golan disrupted the Sea Kings’ offense, limiting CdM’s scoring chances to long-distance set pieces. In the second half, goalkeeper Sammy Nowak took an aggressive approach in coming off her line, keeping CdM from getting shot attempts off on consecutive corner kicks.
“In the defense, Jenna and Samara have been playing club together since they were little, so they already have chemistry,” Johnson said. “All coming from different clubs, it’s hard for everybody to be playing the same type of soccer.