Water Polo: Newport, CdM go platinum

NEWPORT BEACH — The USA Water Polo Junior Olympics is billed as the largest water polo tournament in the country. Teams from across the nation have descended on Orange County for the eight-day tournament.

But travel fatigue will not be an excuse if Newport Beach Water Polo Inc. does not do well in the boys' 18-and-under championship division. Many of the players on the team are playing in their home pool of Newport Harbor High this weekend.

"I'm glad I don't have to stay in a hotel," said Newport Beach player Mitchell Mendoza, an incoming senior at Newport Harbor. "We can go home and rest."

Mendoza earned the rest Saturday, on the Junior Olympics' opening day. The lefty scored three goals to help No. 14-seeded Newport Beach upset No. 11 American River, 9-5, and win Pool "K."

Newport Beach, which also defeated LWP Gold, 11-5, in its opening match, advances to the platinum division (top 24) of the 48-team field. A rival awaits there in Newport's three-team pool.

Newport Beach first will play sixth-seeded LA Premier in its opening platinum division game at 8 a.m. Sunday at Newport Harbor High. Then, Newport Beach will face third-seeded CdM Aquatics Grey at 11 a.m.

CdM Grey, which features eight CdM players and Newport Harbor grad Dan Stevens, easily won its opening pool as well. CdM Grey beat Thunder Black, 20-3, and West Valley Red, 13-5.

Newport Beach Coach Robert Lynn, who is also the Newport Harbor High boys' coach, said it should be an interesting match. It usually is when his teams play CdM. This particular team that Lynn is coaching has a mixture of Newport Harbor players and players from Long Beach Wilson.

Recent Newport Harbor graduate Wyatt Muller is the team's starting goalie, and fellow recent graduates Curtis Fink and Blake Grove are also on the squad. There are also two varsity returners from Newport Harbor High, Mendoza and K.J. Kelley. It could have been three, but Ryan Warde, a second-team All-Sunset League performer last year for the Sailors, has transferred to Edison, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

The talent from Long Beach also is immense, starting with Stanford-bound Jackson Kimbell, who is on the U.S. junior national team. Fellow recent Wilson graduate Max Irving (UCLA), incoming seniors Murphy Slater and Jake Ctvrtlik and incoming junior Zach D'Sa also are on the Newport Beach squad. They helped Wilson reach the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match last fall.

"We haven't been able to practice in a while," Mendoza said. "Max has UCLA practice, and Jackson has the [junior] national team. It's kind of hard to get all the guys together, but when we do, I think we have a pretty good squad. We didn't really have any [tournament] goals. We just came in and were like, 'Let's just keep working hard and get as far as we can.' We're in the platinum now, and we're going to keep going."

Kimbell matched Mendoza with three goals. Newport Beach was able to pull away in the game, which was tied at 3-3 at halftime. Kimbell gave Newport Beach the lead early in the third quarter, walking the ball in before scoring just inside five meters.

Then, on a six-on-five drawn by Irving, Mendoza scored from the right. He added another goal from nearly the same spot with the shot clock running down, and Newport Beach had a 6-3 lead with 3:26 left in the third quarter.

American River, which was led by Ian Brady with two scores, was not able to get closer than three goals the rest of the way.

"The third quarter was the best quarter we had," Lynn said. "We played good defense and were more precise on attack. We were more patient, got the right opportunities and just pulled away from there. It gave us some breathing room, and I could sub a couple of more guys."

The win was important. If Newport Beach would have lost, it would have needed to win another match Saturday night just to ensure platinum status.

Irving, D'Sa and Kelley also scored for Newport Beach, which earned a bronze medal in this division last year in Northern California. Muller made five saves and added a steal.

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