IRVINE — Carly Christian made a back-door cut, like a basketball player going up for an alley-oop.
Maddy McLaren found Christian with a precise cross-pool pass and Christian put the shot away. Eighteen seconds into the game, the Newport Water Polo Foundation 18-and-under girls had the lead.
A fast start was going to be important against a tough opponent, Stanford Red, at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. Newport made sure it stood up, holding on for a 9-5 victory in its second pool-play game Thursday afternoon at Beckman High.
Tenth-seeded Newport, consisting solely of Newport Harbor High players, advanced to the platinum bracket, assuring itself a place in the top 24. Newport plays the seventh-seeded San Diego Shores "A" team Friday at 8 a.m. at Santa Margarita High. Then, Newport will play second-seeded Huntington Beach Water Polo Blue — featuring former Newport Harbor goalie Sarah Wilkey — at 11 a.m. at Santa Margarita.
Stanford was a tough challenge as well, but Newport never trailed after Christian's initial goal. Christian, who will be a junior, went on to score four goals and added three steals.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game," said incoming Newport senior captain Presley Pender, who had a goal and two steals. "This was the first time we matched up this summer, but we obviously know they're strong, they're aggressive. Our philosophy was just to come out hard right from the start. The first quarter, when we scored on our first possession, that was huge. The main reason why we did so well was because we were so fired up right from the beginning."
NWPF took a 3-1 lead after the first quarter. Three times Stanford Red drew within a single goal, the last time coming on Pippa Temple's penalty shot late in the third quarter. But Newport's Avery Peterson answered, beating a drawn-out goalie to make the score 6-4, Newport, with 1:27 left in the quarter.
Stanford Red's Olivia Santiago scored from the perimeter but Christian answered, skipping in a shot from about seven meters. The outside shooting helped Newport after Stanford started dropping on Newport two-meter player Elissia Schilling late in the game.
Newport held Stanford Red scoreless in the final quarter, earning what Coach Bill Barnett said was a "meaningful" victory.
"It was off for a while, then it got back on," Barnett said of his team's outside shooting. "We had some really nice shots. Carly had a really nice outside shot, and so did Presley. They had scored, and then we come right back and score."
Incoming senior Sophie Leveque had two goals and two steals for Newport, and Schilling had a goal and tied for the team lead with three steals. McLaren and Allyson Hall added a steal each for Newport.
Julia Peters, a Santa Clara commit at center, led Stanford Red with two goals. But Peters found it hard to get the ball past Newport incoming sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington, who was solid — and aggressive when she had to be — all game.
Barnett said he's been pleased with the progress of Harrington, who finished with eight saves and a pair of steals. Pender agreed.
"We knew we were losing Sarah," Pender said. "We were like, 'Who's going to step up and be our goalie?' But Cleo came through and she is awesome. She has improved so much; I have only good things to say about her. She's going to be amazing … Coming in from frosh-soph last year, you'd think she'd be so intimidated, but no."
Last year the NWPF 18s girls had strong showing at the Junior Olympics, placing ninth. Pender said another top-10 finish is a goal this year, but she knows that the biggest tournament of the year is still six months away.
"Our main focus is CIF and we're just building right now," Pender said. "But obviously, JOs is a huge tournament. We're going for top 10 and we're seeded 10th, but in the big picture we're just getting going."
Newport can expect at least two tough games Friday, but Barnett is also OK with that.
"Most of these teams that we're going to play in that [platinum] division have graduated seniors," Barnett said. "[But] that's what we're here for. We're here to get experience against top-notch competition, to get us ready for the fall."
Newport defeated Blue Crush of Oregon, 18-3, in its first match of the day.