Newport Harbor boys’ water polo breaks through against Mater Dei


In his fourth year in charge at his alma mater, Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo coach Ross Sinclair has his first four-year senior class.

Sinclair’s first year ended in disappointment as the Sailors lost at Long Beach Wilson in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs in 2015. It is believed to be the first time that Newport Harbor lost its opening playoff game in program history.

Three years later, Sinclair has built the program back up among the Division 1 elite. Although it’s still very early in the season, Thursday’s 7-5 nonleague win at home over Mater Dei was something of a statement win.

It is Newport Harbor’s first victory over defending Division 1 champion Mater Dei since the third-place game of the South Coast Tournament in 2009. Jason Lynch, who Sinclair said he considers a mentor, was the Sailors’ head coach back then.

Senior co-captain Jack White scored four goals and added four steals for the Sailors (3-0), who never trailed and opened up leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the first half.

“It’s great,” White said. “This entire preseason, we’ve been working hard and working on team chemistry, and it’s pretty nice to see it finally be revealed in the game. I think we came out really strong, which is what we were hoping for. When times got rough and the game got closer, we stayed with each other. We never let the officials or the calls get to us.”

Juniors Ike Love, Makoto Kenney and Reed Stemler added one goal each for the Sailors. Another junior, goalkeeper Blake Jackson, made 12 saves for Newport Harbor, which lost to Mater Dei four times last season, including in the semifinals of the Division 1 playoffs and the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title match.

Prior to Thursday’s game, the Sailors had been 0-7 against Mater Dei under Sinclair.

Last year, when we lost to the top teams, it was because we didn’t have a good start. We came out this game and went up 3-1 after the first quarter ...

— Blake Jackson, Newport Harbor High goalkeeper

Other players are also emerging this year for the Sailors. Seniors Makana Sanita and Jake Liechty each had two assists and two steals for the winners.

Sinclair said that White, Kenney, Liechty and Stemler are the Sailors’ four team captains this season.

“It’s a leadership group, a committee,” Sinclair said. “We graduated [goalkeeper] Max Sandberg, who was like our fearless leader. He’s in the Naval Academy now, so that was a big void we had to fill. We figured, why not use four people? But everyone needs to lead every day.”

Newport Harbor led 6-4 after three quarters. Mater Dei drew within a goal after Jackson was excluded early in the fourth quarter following a scrum in front of the Sailors’ goal. Newport Beach resident Oliver Teitschied scored the first of his two goals for Mater Dei (1-1), cutting the lead in half.

But the Sailors responded. After a Mater Dei turnover at mid-tank, Kenney quickly passed it to Love, who found an open White on the left side for a goal with 4:27 remaining in the game. It would be the last goal scored in the contest.

Newport Beach residents Warren Loth and Connor McManigal each scored for Mater Dei, which also got a goal, two assists and three field blocks from Huntington Beach resident Kaden Kaneko. But the Sailors got the Monarchs in foul trouble early, with Loth and Newport Beach resident Cameron Reagan picking up two exclusions each in the first quarter.

Reagan contributed an assist and a steal for the Monarchs.

Newport Harbor hosts the Bishop’s School of La Jolla in a nonleague game Saturday at 2 p.m. The Sailors hope to continue their winning ways.

“Last year, when we lost to the top teams, it was because we didn’t have a good start,” said Jackson, the Sailors’ starting goalkeeper after Sandberg’s graduation. “We came out this game and went up 3-1 after the first quarter, which was really impressive. I’m proud of the intensity.”

Twitter: @mjszabo