Girls' Water Polo: Sailors step up to beat Breakers

LAGUNA BEACH — The day before a big nonleague match against Laguna Beach High, Newport Harbor senior girls' water polo player Carolyn Smith wanted to talk to Coach Bill Barnett.

Smith asked for more playing time. Barnett listened.

"Throughout the season I've only been playing two quarters, and I've been trying really hard in practice," Smith said. "I wanted to know why I wasn't playing and he didn't really have an answer. He was like, 'OK, we'll try it out.'"

Both player and coach looked smart after the Sailors beat the Breakers on Friday afternoon at Laguna Beach High.

Smith scored a career-high five goals as Newport Harbor won the surprisingly lopsided game, 10-4.

"She stepped up," Barnett said. "She told me she wanted to play more, and now she's got her chance."

Chances abound for the Sailors (14-4), ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1. They are currently playing without senior co-captain Carly Christian, who suffered a concussion last week in practice. Barnett said Christian will likely miss about another week, leaving her status for next weekend's Irvine Southern California Championships up in the air.

"I don't know what her status is at this point," Barnett said. "She has to get tested again next week."

But minus their fastest player and leading goal-scorer, others did step up for Newport Harbor. The Sailors were able to pull away from the Breakers (13-7), No. 6 in Division 1, in the second quarter.

Newport scored four unanswered goals to take a 6-1 halftime lead. First it was junior Christina O'Beck on a close lob from the right, then Smith struck from about five meters. She scored again on a counterattack lob, after senior Avery Peterson fed her with a cross pass.

Then Smith struck again, when O'Beck quickly played the ball to her after a foul. Smith's fourth goal, with 21 seconds left in the half, put Laguna Beach on its heels.

"It really did [feel nice]," Smith said. "I didn't know I was going to have it in me, but it was like an adrenaline rush. They were leaving me open, and I was taking advantage of it ... I think we really played well as a team. We were passing the ball, moving well."

Senior Elissia Schilling (two field blocks), junior Heidi Fults and sophomores Rachel Whitelegge and Kate Pipkin also scored for Newport Harbor, and Peterson dished out three assists. It was the first varsity game for Pipkin, who has been playing on the Sailors' stellar junior varsity team this year.

Defensively, Newport Harbor was able to shut Laguna Beach down, holding the Breakers to a season-low four goals.

Sophomore standout Makenzie Fischer led the Breakers, scoring twice and drawing four exclusions. But Laguna Beach was able to go just two for six on the power play (both goals scored by Fischer). Newport Harbor converted its only six-on-five chance in one of its most complete games of the season.

"I was very pleased with the way they stepped up, especially the defense," Barnett said.

At least three times in the first half, Fischer had open looks in front of the cage, but she was thwarted each time by Sailors junior goalie Cleo Harrington (six saves). Sophomore goalie Carlee Kapana made seven saves in the second half for Newport Harbor.

"I thought that was a big turning point in the game," Laguna Beach Coach Ethan Damato said of Harrington's stops. "In the first half, we were getting a lot of good looks, and we didn't put any of them away. Obviously, you've got to put your chances away against Newport. You don't get a lot of them."

Newport Harbor built its lead to 10-3 early in the fourth quarter, on Pipkin's goal from the outside. The Sailors, who went 4-0 against Laguna Beach last year, were on their way to another win. The teams could meet again in the Division 1 quarterfinals as well, if the rankings hold up.

Newport Harbor plays at Santa Margarita in another tough nonleague game Saturday at about 1:45 p.m. Santa Margarita is the top-ranked team in Division 2, but the Sailors have beaten the Eagles twice already this season.

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