NEWPORT BEACH — The senior class of the Newport Harbor High girls' soccer team assembled under threatening skies Tuesday afternoon.
Rain did not interrupt the Sailors' Senior Day festivities. It wasn't until the second half of their Sunset League game against Huntington Beach that those threatening skies started producing precipitation.
It didn't bother Newport Harbor. Soon, the final whistle blew at Davidson Field. As a team, the Sailors had yet again proved they're more of a threat than they've been in years.
Senior Josie Jogwe and junior Jenna Castillo scored second-half goals as the Sailors blanked the Oilers, 2-0, to clinch third place in league and a CIF Southern Section Division I playoff berth.
It's the first time Newport Harbor girls' soccer has made CIF in back-to-back years in a decade. The 2000-01 and 2001-02 teams were the last to accomplish the feat.
That senior class has moved the program forward.
"I think we've worked at this really hard," said senior Emily Browne, a four-year starter at goalie who made three saves Tuesday. "There's a lot of effort and a lot of good energy coming from this team. I think we deserve it ... I've seen a lot of good things from this team and I love every single person on it. We're more like a family. Things work out for families most of the time."
Seniors Jogwe, Browne, Shanay Fischer, Shannon Boler, Jennifer Munoz, Brenda Perez and Madison Wooters all played the first half. Three other seniors — goalie Meagan Kay, injured defender Courtney McIntosh and junior varsity player Jackie Rosales — were also honored in the Senior Day ceremony. Coach Larry Draluck said Kay, who splits time in goal with Browne, would start Newport's Sunset League finale Thursday at Fountain Valley.
Newport Harbor (7-9-3, 5-3-1 in league) kept the pressure on in the first half but was unable to score. That changed in the 48th minute, when Jogwe was taken down in the left side of the box by a defender for Huntington Beach (2-5-2 in league).
"She was on the back of my jersey," Jogwe said. "It was like a rubber band — she pulled me and I fell forward."
Jogwe took the penalty kick. Huntington Beach junior goalie Justice Walker guessed right, but Jogwe still scored into the lower-right corner. It was her sixth goal in the Sailors' nine league games.
Browne was not surprised.
"I know from experience — there's no stopping Josie's goals," she said. "You either duck or run."
Newport Harbor did not run away with the game after that. Huntington Beach sent players up but was unable to get the equalizer. The best chance was when sophomore forward Kassidy Simpkins earned a free kick just outside of the box. Jordan Bradley played the ball in, but Browne batted it back out and out of danger.
Otherwise, a defense led by Boler, Perez, Munoz and sophomores Rosalie Deliz and Jessica Prather kept the Oilers at bay.
"Considering they had four people up there sometimes, I think we handled it pretty well," Boler said. "Everyone made sure to come back and stay on their players. Everyone was just really working really hard to mark up."
Castillo scored the second goal just before the final whistle, off a corner kick from Fischer. The two players, along with junior Jill Messersmith, helped the Sailors effectively control the midfield.
"I have an incredible backbone," Draluck said. "[Boler, Castillo and Fischer], and then Josie and Jill, that's a tough central force."
The Sailors also rely on four freshmen: Natalie Ward, Matilda Higman, Alyssa Randall and Allana Rockwell. Whatever the mix, it appears to be a winning formula as they're headed back to the CIF playoffs.
Prior to last year, they hadn't made the playoffs since 2005. Now they appear ready to head on the road again and surprise a team in the first round, like they did last year to Saugus.
"There's a lot more pride, there's a lot more expectation of winning, getting results and excellence," Draluck said. "...This is, I think, the best league season since I've been here, with respect to competitiveness."