Sailors clinch Sunset crown

NEWPORT BEACH — Emotions ran high on Senior Night for the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team.

Senior captain Presley Pender said Coach Bill Barnett even got a bit emotional before Wednesday night's big Sunset League finale against Edison.

"He told us he's never coached a team that's worked so well together and played as a team," Pender said. "That's a huge compliment. I mean, he's a legend and he's telling us that ... He started to tear up. It was a sentimental moment. That's such a great compliment."

The Sailors definitely worked well together once the game began. The class of 2012 proved it was going to accept nothing less than an outright league title.

Newport Harbor earned it after outlasting Edison, 8-6, at Newport Harbor High, clinching the top placing from the league in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs that begin next week. Los Alamitos finished second in league, with the Chargers in third.

The Sailors' seniors were definitely heard from. They scored seven of the team's eight goals, including a game-high four from Maddy McLaren, two from Pender and one from Sophie Leveque. They helped Newport Harbor win its fifth Sunset League crown in six years.

"All of the seniors stepped up," Pender said. "We were like, 'OK, we've been working four years for this, and this is our year.' I'm just so happy. It's an amazing feeling."

Newport Harbor (22-4, 5-0 in league) never trailed in claiming its 11th straight victory. The Sailors, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll, came out strong in the second half after leading No. 8 Edison (15-11, 3-2) by just a goal at intermission.

Pender scored on a lob from the left. Then, her shot from five meters trickled under the left arm of Edison senior goalie Sydni Estrella. After junior Elissia Schilling scored bar-in off of a foul, the Sailors had a much more comfortable 7-4 advantage.

The three goals came in less than two minutes.

"We were talking about what it's going to take to beat Newport, and I sincerely believe we needed to play a perfect game," Edison Coach Diggy Riley said. "I think we played pretty darn close for about 80% of it. But the great thing about Newport, they will score on those 20% mistakes that you make. It's points off turnovers, right? The NBA covers it all the time. Well, they were scoring points off our turnovers, and we just can't have that happen."

Edison closed within 8-6 with 5:35 left in the game, when senior Alys Williams scored on a six-on-five. Williams led her team with two goals and led all players with six steals. But McLaren's defense limited the opportunities of her future teammate at UCLA.

"The goal was to shut her down not only from scoring, but from creating offense," McLaren said. "We watched a lot of film of her creating plays for other girls."

Edison could not get closer. The Chargers had a chance with about three minutes left, when Williams got a steal at mid-pool. But McLaren hustled to get back on defense, limiting Williams' counterattack opportunity, and the possession eventually ended with a steal from Newport junior Avery Peterson.

An Edison power play in the final minute featured good perimeter defense from junior Carly Christian, ending with a block from goalie Cleo Harrington with 30 seconds left.

Peterson had three steals for Newport, and Christian added two. Christian also won three sprints, including a big one to start the third quarter that ended an Edison six-on-five chance.

Harrington made 16 saves for the Sailors.

"She's been improving so much, on both shots from set and from the outside." McLaren said. "She's become very well-rounded."

Jessica Becker, Risa Burke, Ashley Dorman and Abby Oshiro added goals for Edison, and Melissa Balding drew four exclusions. Riley has his team playing well heading into the playoffs; the Chargers could be a handful for one of the top seeds in a potential quarterfinal matchup.

"Our girls are so fired up about CIF right now," Riley said. "They truly believe. And for high school girls, when they start thinking like that, great things can happen."

The Sailors have also made great things happen this season. Brenna Barrios, Annie Kinney, Lotte Martin, Paisley Muller, Kirstin Pearson, Lindsey Richardson and Hailey Shaw were the other seniors honored Wednesday night.

"There's 10 of us, that's so many," Pender said. "This is our last year, and I think all but two of us have played for four years in this program. That's physically and mentally draining. Just that we've made it this far is an accomplishment. I mean, we've had double days, literally, since summer.

"We've worked so hard, and all of our hard work is showing. I'm so proud of our team."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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