Whitelegge a wall for Tars

Both feature a rectangular playing surface.

The main goal of both is to get a round ball into a net.

Newport Harbor High senior Chris Whitelegge got used to juggling basketball and water polo in his first couple of years with the Sailors.

On the hardwood, Whitelegge was a forward who could sometimes post up down low. In the pool, he would thwart two-meter players who tried to do the same.

Two years ago, though, it was time to make a decision.

"I realized I wasn't going to make it in basketball," Whitelegge said. "Water polo was a better choice. I really had to focus on one sport in order to be successful."

Coach Jason Lynch and the Sailors are glad Whitelegge made that call. The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week is now a second-year varsity starter and a key component for the Sailors.

He proved it again last weekend at the South Coast Tournament. Whitelegge made 18 saves in a big quarterfinal win over Dos Pueblos, helping hold the high-powered Chargers to just four goals. The next day, he had 13 saves as Newport beat rival Corona del Mar, 9-7, to take third place in the 32-team tournament.

Whitelegge is one of two team captains along with fellow senior Andrew Duhoux. Big efforts like this don't surprise those close to the team.

Last year, Whitelegge showed promise when he was second-team All-Sunset League. This year, he's been a wall as one of two returning starters, along with junior Farrel South.

"He was fairly inconsistent last year," Lynch said. "He had some talent, but was kind of up and down. But he's had a good attitude. He's super-focused. [This year] he's definitely been our more consistent player, game in and game out. He's probably one of our best athletes, if not our best athlete."

Whitelegge said he still plays pick-up basketball. He was on a bigger stage in July, when he and South played for the United States men's junior national water polo team in an international tournament in Italy.

The host Italians won the eight-team tournament. The United States placed second, but Whitelegge was named its most outstanding goalie.

"That was a huge accomplishment for me," Whitelegge said. "That was probably one of the greatest feelings I've had with water polo. To be in Italy and receive that award, with all the other countries there, it was like 'Wow!' "

He makes others echo that sentiment during games for the Sailors (7-1), ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll. And Whitelegge has continued to work hard, setting a good example for his teammates in what has been a trying-at-times early season for Newport Harbor.

There have been distractions with the Jon Walters transfer to Mater Dei, and it also led to penalties when he was ruled academically ineligible in 2009. The Sailors had to forfeit 25 of their 26 victories from last season. Lynch also had a two-week suspension, tough in the early season when a team is trying to build chemistry.

A great goalie can go a long way. Lynch said he thinks Whitelegge and El Toro goalie Garrett Danner are the two best goalies in CIF. It makes sense to have Whitelegge as a captain, where he said he carries an "enforcer" type of role when his teammates aren't focused.

That's rarely a problem with Whitelegge himself, even if his starting spot is relatively secure. He said he's been working on his passing on the counterattack.

"I've had athletes who think there's no need for them to work too hard because they're already the best," Lynch said. "[Whitelegge] could definitely be cruising, but he isn't doing that."

In addition to his water polo prowess, Whitelegge has about a 3.6 grade-point average. He continues setting a good example, for his teammates as well as his younger siblings. Rachel Whitelegge is an eighth-grader at Ensign Intermediate who also plays water polo as a set defender/driver; Jack turns 4 next week.

Whitelegge's hoop dreams may have ended, but he hopes to lead Newport Harbor to big things in the pool as well.

"I have a lot more confidence than I did last year," Whitelegge said. "Playing more games over the summer and spending more time with my teammates, the bond, I just feel more confident in the games … We definitely want to be in the mix [to win CIF]."

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