Taylor Smith has turned into a top goal-scorer for the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team as a freshman, which isn’t a normal thing at an elite program like Newport Harbor.
Then again, neither is having four total freshmen on varsity. The Sailors have that this year with Smith, Morgan Netherton, Lily Gess and Alex Love.
These players have meshed with experienced seniors like goalkeeper Erin Ross, Linnea Kelly, Annie Rankin and Kili Skibby, players who helped the Sailors claim the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title last season.
The result is a team that appears to have improved a lot in the month since the regular season began. The Sailors showed Saturday that they could handle a tough opponent from the CIF San Diego Section.
Smith scored four goals as Newport Harbor beat the Bishop’s School of La Jolla 9-7 in a nonleague match.
Newport Harbor (9-3), which never trailed, also got two goals each from Skibby and Rankin. Netherton dished out three assists – two of those to Smith on inside drives.
“We’ve been playing for a few years together, and we’ve both known each other pretty much all our lives,” Smith said. “Our relationship has just grown so that we’re used to each other in the pool.”
Senior defender Brooke Banta also scored for coach Ross Sinclair’s Sailors, while sophomore center Olivia Giolas drew three exclusions and a five-meter penalty shot. Ross made six saves.
“We did a good job controlling the tempo of the game and kind of dictating what we wanted to do, how we wanted to play offensively and defensively,” Sinclair said. “For the most part, we were pretty good about staying disciplined.
“Taylor had a great game offensively, and she was good defensively too. Her movement is great. She’s really explosive, and I think Skibby and Morgan did a really nice job of distributing and getting the ball over there on those back-door drives.”
The Sailors and the Bishop’s School (5-4) each scored a goal in the first quarter, a goal in the third and three goals in the fourth. The difference was the second quarter, where Newport Harbor owned a 4-2 advantage.
Sophomore Sophia Sanders scored a team-best four goals for the Bishop’s School, which has also lost to Orange Lutheran (ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2), Santa Barbara San Marcos (No. 6) and Goleta Dos Pueblos (No. 8) this season. Newport Harbor is ranked No. 14 in Division 1 and 2.
“Unfortunately, the record doesn’t look so great when you play all of the tough teams from up here,” the Bishop’s School coach Doug Peabody said. “I thought we did great, it was just the second quarter where we gave up the four-goal run. We just lost a little bit of focus there, and they hit a couple of shots. We didn’t finish out defensively where we should have.”
Ross made a big save on Katie Scott’s shot at the left post with about two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, preserving what was an 8-6 lead at the time. Smith scored on the other end, giving Newport Harbor a three-goal cushion.
“As a senior, it’s really cool to watch the younger girls show up and play,” Skibby said. “When I was a freshman, I was pretty timid. I know what it’s like to be scared, and that they’re not is really nice. I trust them … age doesn’t matter.”
The Sailors begin Surf League play Tuesday with a match against top-ranked Laguna Beach, at 5:10 p.m. at Corona del Mar High. Skibby said the team is looking forward to that matchup.
“We have nothing to lose,” she said. “I’m excited. Hard games are more fun.”