Catherine Carpenter has always thought that the best offense is a good defense.
People usually say the inverse is true, but Carpenter has always been defense-minded.
She comes from a tough family. Younger brother Benton, a sophomore at Newport Harbor High, also plays defense for the boys' polo team. Her father, Scott, was a two-way football lineman at Corona del Mar High before playing center and right guard at Stanford in the early 1980s.
Water polo games, like football games, can be won in the trenches. Catherine Carpenter doesn't mind.
"In AYSO soccer I was always a defender," she said. "In basketball I wasn't really into shooting it. I've always been more into defense. I've always thought that was a lot more important."
It's served the Stanford-bound senior well on the Newport Harbor girls' water polo team. For the past two years, she's been a primary two-meter defender.
Sailors Coach Bill Barnett is comfortable with Carpenter back there guarding set. It would be safe to say that his Sailors, they of the press defense, also put a premium on defense..
"I think she's one of the best two-meter defenders in CIF," Barnett said. "But she's worked very, very hard to perfect her outside shot and she's also going in to set more."
This year Carpenter hasn't been able to focus solely on defense. Newport Harbor (12-4) needs her overall water polo ability on a fairly young team with just two returning starters.
Carpenter has responded, which Barnett likes to see from his senior captain. She was all-tournament team at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions last weekend, helping the Sailors to a fourth-place finish. The girl who is known for her defense is second on the team in steals to Presley Pender, yes, but she's also second in goals (20) to Maddy McLaren and first in assists (17).
She said she would have been very surprised last year, if you told her she would become such an offensive threat. Barnett isn't.
"She has good size, she's very smart and she's a really good swimmer," he said. "She has good mobility."
Carpenter said she has a 4.2 weighted grade-point average at Newport Harbor. She is part of a highly-touted recruiting class for the Cardinal, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation in this year's preseason poll.
Two of the other five girls who will be heading to Palo Alto next year are Dos Pueblos phenom Kiley Neushul and Los Alamitos senior Cory Dodson. In a span of five days this past week, Carpenter had to play three total games against those two future teammates.
"I'm really excited to play with a lot of them, rather than against them," Carpenter said. "We're around each other a lot. It was sort of funny, because [Wednesday] night when they called the captains over, Cory was the other captain. It was like, 'Introduce yourselves,' and we were like, 'Uhh, we already know each other.' "
Carpenter has made plenty of friends in water polo. It was almost a given that she'd be playing the sport. Her cul-de-sac in Newport Beach is a virtual water polo haven, with neighbors like Melissa Wheeler (who went on to play at Cal) and Katie Kepner (UC Santa Barbara).
She's also plenty familiar with the other seniors on Newport Harbor, including Kailyn Obenauer, Mary Rose Wight and Sarah Wilkey. She said they've been playing on the same team since they were 12, with Izzy Donati joining when the group reached high school.
They have each other's back. In the Santa Barbara TOC quarterfinal win against Corona del Mar, Carpenter picked up her second foul early in the second quarter. Yet the whole defense picked up its level a notch and shut down the Sea Kings at two meters for the entirety of Newport's 7-4 victory. McLaren is also a good defender for the Sailors.
"I know that if I get two fouls or something like that, there's one or two other really good set defenders who can go in there and back me up," Carpenter said. "It's nice to have that. Last year, Kate [Klippert] also played [two-meter defense], but Kate had to be an offensive threat last year, so it was basically just me. It's nice to be able to rely on other people to help you out, if you need it.
"Everyone on our team, I think, is competent and good at guarding set. Even the small little Carly [Christian] can get around and do something."
The Sailors are happy when Carpenter is in that position, but she's not just a role player this year.
"That's what's been fun about this year, being able to play both sides of the pool more," she said. "I kind of get to do everything now."
Born: Feb. 6, 1993
Hometown: Newport Beach
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Bill Barnett
Favorite food: tiramisu
Favorite movie: "Pride & Prejudice"
Favorite athletic moment: Newport Harbor beating Corona del Mar in overtime, 6-5, in the Battle of the Bay this year.
Week in review: Carpenter was an all-tournament team selection at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, scoring four goals over four games to help the Sailors to a fourth-place finish.