Ross Sinclair will coach against Brian Flacks in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 boys’ water polo title match on Saturday. Both will lead their alma maters.
Sinclair coaches top-seeded Newport Harbor High, while Flacks guides No. 2 Studio City Harvard-Westlake. The two coaches have gotten more familiar over the past year. In August, they were assistant coaches and roommates as the U.S. men’s youth national team played at the FINA Youth World Championships in Hungary. Team USA finished ninth.
“I know [Flacks] has a lot of pride in that program, and I think we probably see the same thing in each other, being at our respective alma maters,” Sinclair said. “He’s the type of coach that is good for our country and the development of our sport.”
Only one of the well-respected high school coaches can win Saturday, when the Sailors (29-1) play the Wolverines (24-5) at 2:50 p.m. at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center. Newport Harbor, going for its 13th CIF title and first since 2007, has established itself as the favorite over Harvard-Westlake, which won Division 1 titles in 2013 and ’14.
There’s just a lot of history behind our program for years, half a century or more, so it’s something that we just want to continue to live up to.
The Sailors enter on a 21-match winning streak, including Wednesday’s 9-6 semifinal win over No. 4 Westlake Village Oaks Christian. Newport Harbor has also won two of its three previous meetings this season with Harvard-Westlake.
Harvard-Westlake won 11-6 in the teams’ first meeting in the semifinals of the Elite Eight tournament at Harvard-Westlake on Sept. 15. But that would be the Sailors’ only loss of the season to this point. They came back to beat the Wolverines 13-11 in the South Coast Tournament title match the following weekend, before earning a 14-9 victory in a showcase game at Newport Harbor on Oct. 6.
The Surf League champion Sailors have junior center Ike Love, and surround him with a bevy of talented outside shooters like seniors Jack White and Jake Liechty, junior left-hander Tommy Kennedy and junior Makoto Kenney.
Junior goalkeeper Blake Jackson has been solid all season for the Sailors after the graduation of two-year starter Max Sandberg, who was last year’s Sunset League MVP.
Senior Pierce Maloney scored five goals for Mission League champion Harvard-Westlake in its 7-6 semifinal win over No. 3 Los Angeles Loyola, including a stretch of four straight in the second half. Senior defender Ryan Neapole had a late steal to help the Wolverines make the Division 1 final for the first time in three years.
If Newport Harbor wins Saturday, it will become the first public school to win the Division 1 title since El Toro in 2009. But Sinclair said that is not something he has discussed with his team, or even thought much about.
“It doesn’t add to our motivation to want to be successful,” he said. “I don’t look at it like we’re this lone public school that is the last hope or anything. There’s just a lot of history behind our program for years, half a century or more, so it’s something that we just want to continue to live up to.”