Girls' Water Polo: Sailors surge to semis

NEWPORT BEACH — Santa Margarita High senior Emily Loughlin is a known quantity in high school water polo circles.

Newport Harbor sophomore Rachel Whitelegge? Maybe not so much.

But that won't be true for long.

Whitelegge more than held her own Friday in a Holiday Cup quarterfinal. Matched up against Loughlin much of the match, Whitelegge had five steals and three assists as Newport Harbor beat the Eagles, 11-6, at Newport Harbor High.

The Sailors, ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, will play No. 5 Santa Barbara in the first tournament semifinal, at 10:40 a.m. Saturday at Newport Harbor High.

CdM will play against Foothill in the second tournament semifinal, at 11:45 a.m. at the Sailors' pool.

The championship match is scheduled for 4:05 p.m., also at Newport Harbor.

Loughlin is a beast at two meters. The Cal-bound center, who earlier this month played for Team USA at the FINA Youth World Championships, did score once and draw five exclusions against Newport Harbor. But Whitelegge did an effective job defending her after Newport Harbor's primary set guard, senior Avery Peterson, was excluded for the second time late in the first quarter. Whitelegge impressed in front of her older brother Chris, a former Newport goalie now at UC Santa Barbara, who watched from the stands.

Rachel Whitelegge is one of plenty of new faces in the water for the defending Division 1 champions. They also include players like senior Carolyn Smith, who was a member of "Team Beta" off the bench last year but scored twice against Santa Margarita. And junior Christina O'Beck, who scored a team-high four goals in the Sailors' tournament-opening 19-0 win over Poway, has also been a solid contributor.

"We have a lot of young players on this team right now," said Newport senior co-captain Carly Christian, who scored three times against the Eagles and also drew two exclusions and a penalty shot. "But in practice we try to get them to step up and just play their game. It shows in the games ... I'm proud of everyone playing right now. They're playing really well and working hard in practice, so hopefully we keep it up and play as a team."

Newport Harbor, which handed Santa Margarita (7-1) its first loss of the season, jumped out to a 4-0 lead late in the first quarter. Senior co-captain Elissia Schilling scored on a backhand goal, then Smith scored a six-on-five goal.

After junior goalie Cleo Harrington (six saves) lunged to her right to stop an outside shot by the Eagles' Morgan Martinez, she fed Christian on the counter. Christian put it away, then scored again after taking a nice pass from Schilling. Santa Margarita Coach Kevin Ricks called timeout with 1:44 left in the quarter.

"Wake up!" Ricks implored his team. "Are you kidding me? All of you, wake up."

The Eagles, ranked No. 2 in Division 2, did wake up. They pulled within 7-5 late in the third quarter after Kelli Baumgardner scored a power-play goal. But Smith scored a counter goal less than two minutes later to push the lead back to three.

Schilling scored twice more in the fourth quarter, before the Sailors showed off a quick array of passes. The last one went from junior Heidi Fults to Peterson, who put away the final goal of the match with 59 seconds left.

Christian and Schilling each had three goals to lead the Sailors, and Peterson scored twice and had three steals. Senior Ciera Dixon added a goal for the Sailors, who were coming off an 8-6 loss to Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay on Dec. 21.

"It helps to come out hard out the blocks against a very good team," Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett said. "I don't think they were pleased with their performance against Corona."

Junior Haley Wan led Santa Margarita with two goals and five steals.

Newport Harbor's junior varsity team, which also is playing in the Holiday Cup, split its games Friday. The Sailors fell to Santa Barbara, 9-3, but came back for a 4-3 victory over Carlsbad.

Newport's JV squad, coached by Brian Melstrom, plays Huntington Beach in a ninth-place semifinal at 10:40 a.m. Saturday at CdM.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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