Wilkey blossoms for Sailors

When Sarah Wilkey entered the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo program as a freshman four years ago, she said she spent time making a list.

But just four games into her first season as the Sailors' starting varsity goalie, she is not only checking it twice, but forced to begin anew after checking off each item on the suddenly outdated agenda.

"I had clear goals set for myself to achieve and I did," said Wilkey, a senior who had 14 saves to help lead the Sailors to a 6-5 overtime win over Back Bay rival Corona del Mar on Dec. 17.

Among those goals were to become a varsity starter and secure a college scholarship. She got word recently on the latter, when she verbally committed to play collegiately at UCLA.

"It's like a dream," she said. "All my hard work has paid off."

There are, of course, plenty of dividends yet to collect, said Wilkey, who remains supremely motivated to, among other things, help her team (4-0 and ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division I) pursue Sunset League and section championships.

And that's not all.

"[UCLA's offer] makes me want to show everybody that I'm worth taking, that I'm a good catch for the Bruins," Wilkey said. "I want to finish out the season really strong. And I have to be there for my team. I can't let my teammates down."

The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week did anything but against CdM, making several crucial saves to turn away the team ranked No. 5 in CIF Division I.

"There was a ton of adrenaline and I was super pumped up," Wilkey said of the annual Battle of the Bay showdown in the Sea Kings' pool. "I think I play better under pressure. I've played other big games and this was one [in which] I knew I had to step up. And I did."

Wilkey doesn't so much step up as dart in all directions, utilizing atypical quickness for her position.

"She's very quick," veteran Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett said. "She gets to the ball really well. And, she is really quick coming out of the goal to make steals."

Barnett said Wilkey is also quick with outlet passes that trigger the Tars' counterattack.

The road to the spotlight was less than quick for Wilkey, who began playing water polo at age 10 and was, not long after, "discovered" as a goalie.

"I played one game [in goal] and the coach said, 'I think we found your position,' " Wilkey said.

She spent her freshman season on the frosh-soph, moved up to the junior varsity the following season, and was a little-used varsity backup last season.

She supplemented her training the last two off-seasons by employing personal coaches, former Olympians Merrill Moses and Genai Kerr. Barnett said she benefited from a strong summer schedule, rendering her less than a newcomer when the season opened Dec. 4.

Wilkey said she typically gets into a zone when she plays, but outside the pool and away from school (she has a 3.67 grade-point average), she spends time playing the guitar.

"I practice all the time," said Wilkey, who plays acoustic, electric and classical guitars. "It helps me with goal-setting. I like to learn songs and it takes motivation to do that."

Motivation, it's clear, Wilkey has the kind sufficient to achieve future water polo goals merely by preventing same.

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Sarah Wilkey

Born: Aug. 3, 1993

Height: 5-foot-8

Sport: Girls' water polo

Coach: Bill Barnett

Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese

Favorite athletic moment: "Winning the Battle of the Bay (a 6-5 overtime triumph on Dec. 17 at Corona del Mar High)."

Week in review: She had 14 saves against Back Bay rival Corona del Mar on Dec. 17, after posting 10 saves in a 12-5 nonleague win over Long Beach Wilson on Dec. 14.

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