MISSION VIEJO — One thing most people have noticed about Cleo Harrington is that she tends to play her best in the biggest moments.
In 2011-12, she stepped in as a sophomore and helped the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team win the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. She helped the Sailors get back to that title match last year, earning Newport-Mesa Co-Player of the Year accolades in the process. In both years, the Sailors won the rugged Sunset League.
But Thursday afternoon at Capistrano Valley High, in front of several top college coaches, Harrington perhaps showed just how much of an anchor she can be.
The incoming Sailors senior made a career-high 23 saves, helping Newport Water Polo Foundation's 18-and-under girls blank United (Mater Dei), 3-0, in a USA Water Polo Junior Olympics championship division pool-play game.
Eighth-seeded NWPF, which also defeated Thunder 14-3 in its opening game, moves on to the platinum division. Newport will play ninth-seeded Rose Bowl at 8 a.m. Friday at Fullerton College. Newport lost to Rose Bowl by a goal last weekend at the Manhattan Beach tournament, where Newport finished fourth.
The other 18U team with locals in the championship division is SOCAL "Black," which features five recent graduates of Corona del Mar High (Cassidy Papa, and twins Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis) and Newport Harbor (Elissia Schilling and Avery Peterson).
SOCAL "Black," seeded No. 2, earned two easy wins Thursday at Capo Valley to also advance to the platinum division. SOCAL topped Force, 25-3, before getting past Santa Clara Valley, 17-2. SOCAL will play CHAWP in its first platinum division game at noon Friday, back at Capo Valley High.
Newport Coach Bill Barnett has been switching out his players throughout the summer. But in Thursday's game against United, he decided not to take Harrington out in the second half in favor of his other strong goalie, incoming junior goalie Carlee Kapana. Harrington already had 12 saves by halftime.
"I thought Cleo played great," Barnett said. "She was hot in the first half, so I figured, 'Hey, let's keep her in there.'"
Incoming junior lefty Ellie Reid scored twice for Newport, once on a lob in the second quarter and again from the right side in the third quarter. Incoming junior Kate Pipkin (two steals) also scored the game's opening goal in the first quarter, on the power play from about five meters.
The goals were more than enough for Newport, which also used an effective defensive performance from incoming junior Rachel Whitelegge (two steals and two field blocks). Newport held United, which features Newport Beach resident Brianna Daboub, scoreless in six power-play opportunities.
"Coach B wanted us to make sure that in five-on-six, [the] one and four [spots] didn't shoot," Harrington said. "I think we did a good job with that. I knew who I was comfortable blocking and who I wasn't, so the girls did a really good job of listening to me when I told them to drop or press. I was getting shots that I was more confident that I would block."
Newport typically uses the Junior Olympics as good training for the high school season in the winter. But this group of players could make noise at JOs as well, even playing against superstar club teams.
"You always want to do well," Barnett said. "Granted, all of this is getting ready for the high school season, [but] this is a pretty big competition. It's a culmination of all our summer work … We've played about 10 different field players, and I think they've all gained experience. Even the ones who are coming off the bench now have the experience to really help out. I'm very pleased with all of their progress."
SOCAL also has high hopes. Stephania Haralabidis scored three goals for SOCAL against Santa Clara Valley. Schilling and Peterson each scored twice. Midway through the third quarter, the USC-bound Stephania Haralabidis scored on the counterattack after a sweet give-and-go from the UCLA-bound Schilling.
But high school or future college rivalries are not really factoring in for SOCAL, which is aiming for the gold medal. Last year in this division, the SOCAL Black team also featuring five CdM and Newport Harbor graduates finished third.
"We're all great friends," Schilling said. "We all play for our own high school teams, but coming to a club team, everybody just automatically enjoys playing with each other. We play for each other; we play to set each other up. There's no selfishness on the team, which is really awesome. With a team like we have, with so many players, you kind of have to pick your poison out there.
CdM Aquatics' 18U girls, who are second-seeded in the "classic" division, also won twice Thursday. CdM got past SHAQ, 11-1, behind three goals each from Marina Coskinas and Maddie Musselman. CdM then topped Modesto/Stanislaus, 23-0, as Kampbell Gritsch scored five goals and Eliza Britt added four.
CdM 18Us play San Diego Shores "B" in their first silver division game at 10 a.m. Friday at Trabuco Hills High.
CdM's 16-and-under girls rallied to defeat Seattle Water Polo, 10-9, on Thursday evening to earn platinum status in the championship division. Matilda Bress scored the game-winning goal. CdM plays again at 9:30 a.m. Friday at San Juan Hills High.
The Santa Barbara 18U girls, which feature UC Santa Barbara-bound Newport Harbor grad Carly Christian, is top-seeded in the championship division. Santa Barbara easily achieved platinum status Thursday, defeating Herriman, 13-1, and LAWPC, 14-3.
Newport will play Santa Barbara in its second platinum division game Friday, at 3 p.m. at Fullerton Community College.