Sailors upset Knights

SANTA ANA — It was going to take a total team effort for the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team to upset Foothill on Friday afternoon.

Maybe that's why the Sailors were so excited for the opportunity. They feel like they have a better team than some people might think.

They consistently showed it when it counted, getting big contributions from nearly everyone on the roster to stun the Knights, 13-11, at Foothill High.

Newport Harbor is ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll. That may change in the weeks to come.

"I think this proves we don't deserve to be [ranked] fifth," said junior Avery Peterson, who had two goals and three steals Friday. "We deserve to be a lot higher."

Foothill (4-1) is ranked No. 2 in Division I and generally considered to be one of the favorites, along with top-ranked Corona del Mar, to win CIF. But the Sailors (2-0) didn't let that fact bother them, nor the fact that they were playing without one of their top players in UCLA-bound senior Maddy McLaren.

McLaren, a first-team All-CIF player last year, is working as a counselor at a USA Water Polo training camp in Colorado this weekend. Newport Harbor still came out blazing hot.

Michigan-bound senior captain Presley Pender started the onslaught, skipping in a shot from seven meters on the game's first possession. Then Peterson found the upper-left corner from the outside.

Senior Sophie Leveque scored from in close on the power play before junior Carly Christian and then Pender again scored from the outside, helping the Sailors to a 5-2 lead early in the second quarter.

"It gives us a lot of confidence going into the season," said Pender, who had two goals and a game-high four steals. "We came in without Maddy and we were just like, 'All right. This is it. Let's just give it literally everything we have.'"

By halftime, Newport had an 8-4 lead. Seven different Sailors had already scored, also including goals from junior Elissia Schilling, senior Paisley Muller and the half's final goal, a lob from junior Carolyn Smith with 16 seconds left before intermission.

"There was a high energy level out there, especially early and especially with the shooting," Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett said.

Barnett watched the action wearing a neck brace, necessary after he said he had to have three cervical vertebrae fused last month.

"I'm slowly but surely recovering," said Barnett, whose team was also without the services of senior Allyson Hall.

The Sailors still held an 11-7 lead after three quarters before Foothill tried to come back. The Knights closed to within 12-10 on senior Jessie Porter's team-high fourth goal of the game, a power-play strike with 1:54 left.

It was Foothill's seventh goal in seven power-play opportunities. But Barnett called timeout and the Sailors got the ball to Peterson at set, who scored on a power move to give the Sailors a much-needed insurance goal.

Pender fouled out with just more than a minute to play, but the Knights finally missed on a six-on-five as a lob shot went over the cage.

Peterson said she knew she had to step up in the absence of McLaren, the Sailors' top set defender. She helped hold two of Foothill's big weapons, senior center McKenna Mitchell and junior Nikki Stansfield, to just one combined goal.

"[Peterson] is really improved at both ends of the court," Barnett said. "Defensively, she's got really long arms. She does a really good job of knocking the ball away when it comes into set. And then her two-meter play is vastly improved."

Christian had a game-high four goals for Newport Harbor, and Schilling also scored twice. Sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington made seven saves, several of them from close range.

The Tars opened up their lead to as many as five goals in the second half. Christian had a couple of nice drives, and was fed for her final goal on a precision pass from Muller. Barnett said it was good to see Christian emerge after she had what he called an "on and off" summer.

"She's got great quickness and she shoots the ball really hard," Barnett said. "She's capable of scoring a lot of goals, that's for sure."

The Sailors' goal in the next week is to get ready for the Battle of the Bay, at home against rival CdM on Dec. 16.

"It could go either way," Christian said. "It's going to be a really good game. We definitely have to play like we played tonight, all together, everyone [contributing]. We shall see what happens."

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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