NEWPORT BEACH — Members of the Newport Harbor High girls' soccer team joined hands to make a long line after their Sunset League opener.
Then they rolled into each other. The mass of bodies eventually turned into a big circle near the middle of Davidson Field, like a big hug.
Despite a tough preseason, it's nothing but positive vibes for the Sailors. They believe this is the year they can make an impact in league.
They got off to a good start Thursday evening, dominating play and beating Marina, 3-0.
Junior Josie Jogwe scored twice and assisted on senior Natalie Swift's goal for the Sailors (2-8-3). Newport Harbor looked like it was ready for primetime under the lights, even if was the team's first win since the season-opening one against Baldwin Park on Dec. 2.
"It's difficult for the players," Coach Larry Draluck said. "I have to keep encouraging them to keep believing in themselves, and understand that their hard work is going to pay off. I've been very happy with 80% of the soccer that we've been playing. We've done some silly things because we're not the most experienced soccer team, and only a handful of players play for the most competitive clubs. But I'm very happy. Today, we cashed in."
Swift, a midfielder, said the seniors are definitely motivated. The Sailors have found it tough in the Sunset League; they haven't made the postseason since they were in the Sea View League in 2005.
But even as losses piled up during December, nobody got down.
"I think we've been fourth [in league] every year I've been on the team," Swift said, knowing only the top three teams are guaranteed Division I playoff berths. "That's the biggest thing, I think this year the seniors have been on teams that always had the potential. This year, we just want it so bad because we're so sick of it. Want can overcome anything. The desire to win can overcome."
Newport showed that desire from the start against Marina (1-4-3), and it paid off in the 18th minute. Jogwe was in the right spot as senior forward Mary Yeager's shot went off the bar, and she tapped it in.
The Sailors struck again in the 31st minute, as Jogwe's cross from the right went to Swift in the box. Swift, who stands 5-foot-3 and said she probably has a "half-inch vertical," was guarded closely by the Vikings' Shannon Butler and knew a header was unlikely.
Instead, she somehow wrapped her lifted foot around the defender and just tapped the ball. It trickled into the left corner of the net, and the Sailors had a 2-0 lead that they took into halftime.
They kept attacking, nearly scoring on a hard shot from the top of the box by senior Megan Khademi four minutes into the second half.
The third goal came in the 60th minute, when Jogwe received a long, high-bouncing pass from sophomore Jenna Castillo.
Jogwe's initial shot was off the bar, but she stuck with the play.
"It was just kind of crazy," Jogwe said. "I meant to put it in the corner and it went right off the bar. It came down, so I just jumped up and got it."
Jogwe said she cramped up after her header goal. Draluck didn't mind taking his leading goal-scorer out of the game with it well in hand, joking to her that she was just trying to pad her stats when the first shot went off the bar.
Defensively, Newport Harbor gave Marina very little.
Seniors Beth Barnard and Christie Ohlhaver, along with juniors Shannon Boler and Courtney McIntosh, made life easy for junior goalie Meaghan Kay (three saves).
"[Wednesday] at practice, we worked on our defense a lot," Barnard said. "We really tried to cover for each other more."
Swift nodded in agreement.
"Team defense," she said.
The emphasis will be on "team" if the Sailors want to go places in league. They'll be tested Tuesday at Los Alamitos, which defeated Huntington Beach in its league opener. The Griffins were ranked No. 4 in Division I in the latest CIF poll, which was released in mid-December.
"I think the biggest thing is the fact that we're still so positive, even though we haven't had a good preseason," Swift said. "In previous years, by the time we got into league we've already been sick of [losing]. This year, everyone's staying with positivity. We're going to carry that through league."