Girls' Water Polo: O'Beck thriving for Newport Harbor

The last time the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team made the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship match, Christina O'Beck was a bit disappointed.

Sure, she was thrilled for the Sailors, who came from behind to top rival Corona del Mar one year ago. O'Beck was even on the bench when it happened.

But the then-sophomore was there taking stats, not as part of the varsity roster. She said she was the only girl in the varsity workout group who wasn't called up to varsity for CIF.

"It was really disappointing," O'Beck said. "Varsity workout is so much different from the frosh-soph/JV workout. It's so much harder. I was really happy that I was on the workout, and I guess I just kind of assumed that the whole workout would move up."

The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week is a bit of a funny case. Throughout her water polo career, she has played at two meters. But this year she has become a big-time outside shooter for the Sailors (24-6), who again face CdM for the title Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center.

She understands why that is. The Sailors already have a stud center in UCLA-bound senior Elissia Schilling, and USC-bound senior defender Avery Peterson also can set.

But O'Beck, now a junior, has thrived in her new role. She is third on the Sailors with 41 goals. Four of them came last weekend, in Newport Harbor's huge 11-10 overtime victory at Laguna Beach in the quarterfinals.

If there's one thing that O'Beck has shown, it is that she is able to adapt. She had to do so two years ago when her father, Rick, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. He was just 50 years old.

"It was 12 at night, and I was sound asleep, and then all of a sudden I heard my mom [Patti] screaming," Christina O'Beck said. "We just called 911, figuring that he'd go to the hospital and he'd be fine. But he was gone from the start. There was nothing that they could do."

The death occurred Feb. 21, 2011. It was just five weeks after another starter on this year's Sailors, senior Carolyn Smith, lost her mother, Nina, to pulmonary embolism.

The two-year anniversary of Rick's passing was Thursday. O'Beck received a text from Smith on that day. Both families are Catholic, and the girls have definitely talked to each other about their losses.

"She's someone that I can always talk to," O'Beck said. "She texted me today, saying how proud [my dad] would be. We definitely check in with each other. For the first couple of holidays, she came over for Easter and for Thanksgiving. We definitely got a lot closer as friends."

Both of them have also stepped up this year for Newport Harbor. O'Beck was not a starter at the beginning of the year, but earned that spot by the time the Holiday Cup came around.

She said she is fine with the outside shooting. She has been practicing it for about two years with her private coach, Julie (Swail) Ertel, who helped Team USA earn a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Ertel also finished 19th in the triathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

O'Beck said she took a lesson from Ertel on Tuesday, the day before the Sailors' semifinal match against top-seeded Santa Barbara. O'Beck brought along the Sailors' stud junior goalie, Cleo Harrington.

The results were again there in the game. O'Beck scored twice as Newport Harbor shocked the Dons, 8-5.

"I brought Cleo along because I knew their goalie was going to be really good, so why not have a better goalie?" O'Beck said. "That helped a lot, too, with my goals [on Wednesday]. It's exactly what we worked on Tuesday."

Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett said he is glad that O'Beck has stepped up for the Sailors.

"She's been doing very, very well lately," Barnett said. "I'm very pleased with her progress, especially in this late part of the season."

Patti never misses her daughter's games. But Christina O'Beck said she knows that Rick is there as well, watching over her.

"[Wednesday] night, I look up and you see everybody's parents are there, even parents who usually don't come to games," she said. "That kind of sucks. It really does. But then there's also some sort of comfort, knowing that he is there. I feel like it's a comfort going into games, knowing that someone's there. I know he would be so proud, because he loved coming to my games.

"It makes me play better, just knowing that he's there. It makes me want to play better, just to make him proud, and to make my mom happy too. She's the strongest person I know, and there's nothing she wants more than for me to succeed."

It's happening for Christina O'Beck.


Christina O'Beck

Born: Nov. 13, 1995

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-9

Year: Junior

Sport: Water polo

Coach: Bill Barnett

Favorite food: Spaghetti

Favorite movie: "Bridesmaids"

Favorite athletic moment: Scoring three goals to help Newport Harbor win the Sunset League championship this year over Los Alamitos.

Week in review: O'Beck had a team-high goals as Newport Harbor outlasted Laguna Beach, 11-10, in overtime in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal on the road Feb. 16.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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