NEWPORT BEACH — As the California State High School Water Polo Championships approached, goalie Koby Yokota could hear something knocking, figuratively speaking, of course.
It was opportunity.
Yokota, the Newport Harbor High boys' back-up goalie, knew that starter Chris Whitelegge wouldn't be competing in the tournament that started Friday in Orange County.
Whitelegge, as well as fellow Newport Harbor Sailor Farrel South, are competing with the U.S. men's junior national team at an eight-nation tournament in Italy.
Before the state tournament began Friday, Newport Harbor Coach Jason Lynch spoke to Yokota.
"This is your last opportunity before Whitelegge comes back," Lynch said of what he told Yokota.
The Newport Harbor junior-to-be has been stepping up. He stood out in the Sailors' 15-4 quarterfinal win over Servite Saturday at Newport Harbor.
Yokota had 12 saves, including five in the final quarter.
"He did make some great saves," Lynch said. "That was one of his better games."
It was a welcomed performance for Yokota, who admitted he had been struggling. But he has gained some confidence during this tournament.
Yokota also didn't display complacency. With the Sailors leading 13-4 after three quarters, he continued to give an all-out effort.
With 35 seconds remaining, he made one of his better saves of the game, stopping a point-blank shot.
"I was just thinking I had to do good this tournament or Coach will kill me if I don't," Yokota said with a chuckle. "I just really wanted to have fun this tournament. I just wanted to prove that I could play.
"It felt pretty good. I hadn't played that good in a while."
Yokota has been anchoring a defense that has been remarkable in the tournament, as the Sailors are trying to repeat as the champions.
They have not allowed more than five goals in a game. They have outscored opponents, 61-17, in four games, including a 12-4 win over Santa Barbara Saturday morning to advance to the quarterfinals. Impressive, considering Newport Harbor is without two of its top players and lost 14 seniors to graduation. Also, Davy Jorth did not play Saturday after his right eye swelled from having it poked during a game Friday.
The Sailors hope to have Jorth back today and hope to continue their strong play. They'll face Murrieta Valley in a semifinal at 10 a.m. at Newport Harbor. Loyola plays against Long Beach Wilson in the other semifinal at 11 a.m. The championship is at 3 p.m.
Murrieta Valley edged El Toro in a wild game that went past two three-minute overtime periods and ended in a shootout. The teams were tied, 10-10, after regulation, 12-12, after overtime. Then, Murrieta Valley won, 9-8, in the shootout.
The Sailors didn't need any drama in their quarterfinal. They built a 7-1 lead before halftime, using six different scorers. Servite couldn't keep up, especially with Yokota turning away shots and shutting down any hope for momentum.
It had already seemed as if the game was out of reach after one half. The Sailors continued to work on areas of their game, while outscoring the Friars, 6-3, in the third quarter.
If teams can't challenge Newport Harbor, the Sailors know their coach will be around to push them. When they score, Lynch will judge if there could've been a better way of gaining the goal, Luke Ronaldson said.
"He always pushes us to do the best thing," said Ronaldson, a senior-to-be who led the Sailors with three goals. "He's a great force. Without his determination and his commitment to the team, we wouldn't be anything."
Lynch is entering his 10th year with the Sailors with three CIF Southern Section Division I championship-game appearances and one title.
Even with all the changes occurring for the program this off-season, the Sailors believe they have some unfinished business after finishing runner-up to El Toro last year.
Lynch put it in simple terms, that he's expecting Newport Harbor to contend for the championship. Their play, thus far, in the state tournament is proof.
Five players scored two goals each against Servite, including Ryan Fowler, Trevor McGhie, Daniel Stevens, Preston Lee and Trevor Harper.
*The girls' semifinals will feature a Back Bay matchup, as Newport Harbor will play against Corona del Mar today at 10 a.m. at CdM.
Newport Harbor, the defending champion, beat Foothill, 7-3, in a quarterfinal. Maddie McLaren led the Sailors with two goals. Newport defeated Coronado, 18-3, Saturday morning to win its pool.
Corona del Mar beat Santa Barbara, 6-4, in its quarterfinal game. Cassidy Papa led the Sea Kings with four goals.
Many expect a tight game when CdM plays against the Sailors today.
The Sea Kings beat Newport Harbor, 5-4, in sudden-death triple overtime in the championship game of the Summer Tournament of Champions July 18 in Santa Barbara.
Davis and Los Alamitos play in the other semifinal today at 11 a.m. The final is at 3 p.m.
*The Corona del Mar boys couldn't find an answer for Loyola's Matthew Schwartz in their quarterfinal game.
Schwartz scored seven goals to lead the Cubs to a 10-7 victory. Evan Ramsey led the Sea Kings with two goals.
CdM, much like Newport Harbor, is a team in transition, as only Chase Watson and Bruce Bearer are the most experienced returners.
Watson was held to one goal, but he certainly caused problems for Loyola and allowed other opportunities for CdM.
The Sea Kings played tough in the first half, as the teams were tied, 4-4. But, Loyola went on a 3-0 run in third period, which featured a spectacular backhanded shot from Alex Fortis to beat the shot-clock.
Chris Robertson scored for CdM with less than a second left in the third to cut the deficit to 8-6. But Schwartz scored twice more in the fourth.
CdM Coach Barry O'Dea was surprised to hear Schwartz scored seven goals. He said the Sea Kings allowed some goals they don't usually allow.
He expects his team to bounce back today in the fifth-place semifinal against Mater Dei.