Girls' Water Polo: Sailors edge Eagles

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — The Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team had to put up with the elements on a rainy and foggy Saturday afternoon at Santa Margarita High.

Putting up with Santa Margarita senior center Emily Loughlin, who plays on the U.S. women's youth national team, is more difficult.

Loughlin was constantly double-teamed by Newport senior Avery Peterson and sophomore Rachel Whitelegge. The Sailors also ran a drop defense on her.

"[Loughlin] is so strong that you've got to drop from the outside and hope that their outside shooters don't have a good day," Coach Bill Barnett said.

It was the Sailors who ended up with another good day at the end of the back-and-forth game, taking a 10-9 nonleague victory. Junior goaltender Cleo Harrington made five of her 12 saves in the fourth quarter — all on shots from the perimeter.

Santa Margarita got the ball back with 11 seconds left, but there was a miscommunication between junior goalie Nikki Doumas and Emily Wan. Newport sophomore Kate Pipkin easily stole the pass up the pool, sealing the victory.

Wan, a junior, had a team-high three goals and five steals for Santa Margarita (16-4), the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 2. She also gave props to the Sailors (15-4), ranked No. 3 in Division 1, and their defense.

Loughlin scored twice and drew three exclusions, but the Eagles were only able to go two for six on the power play.

"They ran a really good drop," Wan said. "They know that Emily Loughlin is a really strong center, and that they have to limit her. They had two people on her at all times, and it was really hard for us to get the ball to her, which forced us to look at other options. It forced us to shoot from outside, which is really hard because Cleo's a really good goalie."

In each win against Santa Margarita, the margin has gotten smaller. Wan said she looks forward to possibly playing Newport Harbor again in the quarterfinals of next weekend's Irvine Southern California Championships. The teams are in the same group and could meet Friday night.

Senior Carolyn Smith again led the Sailors with three goals Saturday. One of them was a spectacular shot at the halftime buzzer. It was a heave from past mid-pool that hit the bar, deflected off the goalie and went in. The goal gave Newport Harbor a 7-5 halftime lead.

Peterson (four steals and two assists) and Elissia Schilling (three exclusions drawn and two assists) each scored twice for the Sailors. Heidi Fults, Christina O'Beck and Rachel Whitelegge added single goals.

The Sailors led, 9-7, headed into the fourth quarter. But Loughlin scored from two meters, then Tessa deRecat added a counterattack goal to tie the score with 4:51 left.

The Sailors played the ball in to Schilling, who was double-teamed. So she quickly flipped it to Whitelegge on her right, who ended up scoring the game-winning goal with 4:34 left.

Harrington made three saves in the final three minutes, helping the Sailors edge out the win. It was a strong effort, coming on the heels of Friday's 10-4 win at Laguna Beach and considering the Sailors are still missing senior co-captain Carly Christian (concussion).

"We did really well on our outside shooting throughout the game," Peterson said. "We definitely wanted to counter really hard, and a lot of girls stepped up. It's hard to counter without your fastest girl, but a lot of girls stepped up into that position and played really well … We knew that these were both really important games, and games that will get us ready for the tournament next weekend. We really wanted to execute well."

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