The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team did not have its full cast of characters this weekend at the S&R Sport Summer Elite Eight Tournament.
Incoming senior defender Reed Stemler attended the matches at Harvard-Westlake, but he filmed them from the stands instead of playing in the water. Stemler had his wisdom teeth taken out earlier in the week, Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said.
Newport Harbor incoming sophomore left-hander Gage Verdegaal is in Italy with the Cadet national team, and incoming freshman Ben Liechty is in Serbia training with the Newport 14-and-under club team.
The Sailors had a short three-man bench for the tournament, but they remain long on talent.
Newport Harbor won the inaugural Summer Elite Eight Tournament, defeating Los Angeles Loyola 10-6 in the title match Saturday afternoon at Harvard-Westlake.
Incoming senior attacker Makoto Kenney scored four goals in the final, including two on penalty shots. Senior-to-be Ike Love, a center, scored twice, as did incoming junior center Eli Liechty and sophomore Mason Hunt.
Eli Liechty and senior left-hander Tommy Kennedy each had two assists for Newport Harbor, which rallied from a 3-1 deficit early in the second quarter. Incoming senior goalkeeper Blake Jackson made 13 saves.
The Sailors went a perfect 5-0 in the tournament, including two wins over Loyola and a comeback 14-12 victory over rival host Harvard-Westlake in the semifinals on Friday.
“We definitely showed some good character and resiliency, which is important,” Sinclair said. “It’s obviously a talented group, so it’s more a matter of how consistent we can be. We’re trying to start games off better … but we definitely did a good job of trusting each other and not abandoning [the game plan], which was great.”
Hunt said he is trying to fill the role of a player like graduate Jack White, now at UCLA.
“This is one of my first couple of tournaments playing up on this team, so it’s cool to see how I can make a difference,” he said. “Maybe not necessarily shooting the ball, but creating for the other players and just working the ball around.”
In the absence of Stemler, Sinclair said that Newport Harbor played more of defense by committee. Liechty, junior Sam Allen and incoming sophomore Cole Borggreve, a recent varsity call-up, were part of that committee.
The Sailors scored the final three goals of the first half against Loyola to take a 4-3 halftime lead, Liechty netting the last goal of the half with one second remaining.
Love drew a penalty shot early in the third quarter, and Kenney put it away. Kenney then scored off a foul outside of five meters, and Newport Harbor suddenly had a 6-3 lead with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Loyola, led by incoming senior Carson Kranz with four goals, did not get closer than two goals the rest of the way.
“We stressed a lot about one-on-one defense and awareness,” Love said. “Really, it comes down to awareness remembering the fundamentals when they’re driving. I think that was a big factor in why we shut them down in the second half, just stressing that at halftime and going over the importance of communication.
“It’s hard right now because we only have three people coming off the bench, and everyone’s tired and worn out. It’ll be great when we get our players back. We’re not at full strength at any means, but we definitely do need to stress the importance of coming out strong and establishing a sense of dominance over other teams in the beginning.”
Next up for the Newport Harbor boys is a club tournament, and it’s a big one. The USA Water Polo Junior Olympics will be played in Orange County beginning on July 20.
Sinclair said he is happy with the team’s progress at this point of the summer. Newport Harbor went 32-2 last fall, was a CIF Southern Section Division 1 finalist and won the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title.
“We’ve been playing really well the last few weeks, and it’s promising,” Sinclair said. “I think they know what they want, where they want to go with it. Now it’s just a matter of putting in the work consistently and making it happen.”
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.