Newport Harbor boys’ water polo claims South Coast Tournament title

Newport Harbor boys’ water polo claims South Coast Tournament title
Newport Harbor High's Ike Love (9) scores against visiting Loyola during the first half of the South Coast Tournament semifinals on Saturday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo junior Tommy Kennedy definitely looked like he was going to make a cross pass to senior Jack White late in the third quarter of the South Coast Tournament title match.

Kennedy held the ball high and glanced at White, but that was before whipping a no-look goal into the near corner of the net.


When you’re hot, you’re hot. White just grinned as he swam back toward the middle of the pool.

The Sailors are having fun early in the season.


The results are showing.

Newport Harbor upset top-seeded Studio City Harvard-Westlake 13-11 in the title match Saturday at Newport Harbor High, earning its first South Coast Tournament title since 2007. That’s also the last time that the Sailors won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title.

No. 2 Newport Harbor (15-1) could take over the top spot in Division 1 this year after downing top-ranked Harvard-Westlake (13-2). Kennedy, a quickly emerging left-hander, scored four goals. That matched him for the team-high with junior center Ike Love.

“We have very dangerous outside shooters,” said the 6-foot-7 Love. “If you drop on me, that opens them up for a very good, high-percentage shot. I love to see my teammates score … all of our outside shooters have really stepped up their game, I think.”

Junior Makoto Kenney had three goals, two assists and two steals, while yet another junior, goalkeeper Blake Jackson, made 10 saves. The Sailors never trailed, and seized control by taking a 6-3 lead after scoring the first three goals of the second quarter during a 90-second stretch. The first goal came from Love, assisted by Kennedy, then White found Kennedy for an outside strike. The third goal came on the power play, where Kenney found Love inside for another goal.

“I thought our passing was nice,” Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said. “We were moving the ball really well, and everyone was in sync, confident. Something that Harvard does really well is that they put a lot of pressure on you defensively. They make you go where they want you to go, so it’s important that you move the ball well and be confident.

“That was a credit to Ike. I think Ike did a really nice job of getting good position and being available for the ball. Hopefully we can continue that consistency, of our centers doing their job and our perimeter players doing their job. It makes the game a lot more fun to play, that’s for sure. I think these guys saw that.”

Senior Jake Liechty had a goal, a team-best three steals, an assist and a field block for Newport Harbor. It was Liechty’s goal with 2:15 left that essentially iced the game. His strike from six meters gave the Sailors a 12-9 lead.

White also scored, and Reed Stemler added a steal.

Harvard-Westlake, which won the Elite Eight tournament it hosted last weekend, couldn’t earn its second straight tournament title. George Avakian and Ryan Neapole led the Wolverines with three goals each in the final.

“[Newport Harbor] dominated every facet of the game,” Harvard-Westlake coach Brian Flacks said. “They outplayed us in every possible way. They were focused, and they shot the ball really well. A lot of credit to them … they looked phenomenal throughout the tournament and they deserve a ton of credit for their performance all weekend, not just in our game.”

Newport Harbor defeated Los Angeles Loyola 12-8 in the semifinals earlier Saturday. White led with four goals and Kennedy had three for the Sailors, who led by as many as seven goals in the second half.

The Sailors will now prepare to host Huntington Beach in a key Surf League game Wednesday at 5 p.m. Both teams are 1-0 in league.

“Obviously, we’re excited that we won this tournament, and we’re cherishing the moment of beating Harvard-Westlake,” Love said. “But we’re not complacent. We’re going to keep grinding. We have a lot of room for improvement before CIF comes around.”