Boys' Water Polo: Sailors edge Wilson

NEWPORT BEACH — There was a certain buzz at the pool deck at Newport Harbor High on Tuesday afternoon.

Everyone watched to see what senior Luca Cupido would do next for the Sailors.

Cupido, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Italy, said he arrived in Newport Beach about a month ago. For that, Newport Harbor can say "grazie" (thank you).

He scored a game-high five goals as the Sailors hung on to upset Long Beach Wilson, 9-8, in a nonleague battle of CIF Southern Section Division 1 powers.

The Bruins, who were Division 1 finalists last year, are ranked No. 3. Newport Harbor is ranked No. 8, but expect that to go up.

Cupido, wearing cap No. 6, not only scored the five goals, but he had two steals, an assist and drew two exclusions. He's a dynamic player who helped Italy capture the FINA Youth World Championships last December in Australia, as well as the FINA Junior World Championships in Hungary this summer.

"I arrived and everybody's friendly, everyone was great," said Cupido, whose older brother, Giacomo, is a senior water polo player at Cal. "They treated me like a brother from the first day, so it was easy to be a part of this team. If I'm happy, the more I can do, so it's perfect. So far, so good."

Cupido leads the Sailors (2-0) with eight goals in their first two games, but the other seniors also were strong Tuesday. Lefty Mitchell Mendoza had three goals, a steal and a field block. Goalie Massimo Navarretta, a transfer from Foothill High, made 18 saves in the victory.

Eight of Navarretta's saves came in the first quarter alone, which ended with the Sailors with a 3-2 lead.

"We looked rusty on our shooting," said Wilson Coach Tony Martinho, adding that his team scored on just eight of 36 shots. "We missed a lot of early opportunities, and I definitely think they got some momentum from that."

The Bruins (0-1) can be excused if they're a little rusty early in the season. Their pool was broken at the start of the season, and Martinho said his squad didn't start training until Aug. 29

"I mean, we ran around on land and we got in the ocean a little bit," he said. "It's just different. No goals, you know?"

Wilson nearly scored enough goals in the second half to come back on Newport Harbor, which led 5-2 at halftime. The lead grew to 8-4 with two minutes left in the third quarter, when Mendoza scored in transition.

Mendoza scored again on a power-play drawn by freshman Ryan Hurst with 4:06 to go, pushing the lead back to 9-5. But Wilson did not give up.

Senior Brock Gordon scored inside, then a steal led to a quick goal by junior Zach D'Sa with 47 seconds left. And, after the Bruins got the ball back with 20 seconds left, D'Sa scored again to bring Wilson within a single goal.

But Newport Harbor would hold on.

"They rolled at us strong in the end, and we were just being lazy," Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn said. "It's a trait we need to change right now ... Inexperience started to come out of us, and that's where we're going to have to start. This game was about our first true test, and where we need to begin to work. It was [9-5], then we go 9-8. We have to make sure we're controlling the game a little bit better."

Senior center KJ Kelley scored the other goal for the Sailors, senior Brett Tafoya dished out a nice assist and junior Clay Davison had a field block and drew an exclusion. Hurst had a pair of steals.

"The first two quarters were really good," said Cupido, who scored the Sailors' first four goals. "The second two quarters, we lost some stupid balls. At the end, it was scary, because they could have tied. We need to play together to get more confident. I think for the very important games in October and November, we'll be ready to play against all the teams."

Cupido appears to have the confidence that comes with being an international water polo player. He even spoke unprovoked about Mater Dei, the team that has won three straight Division 1 titles and begins the year on a 79-match winning streak.

"I've heard about all of these teams that are very good, Mater Dei and all these teams," He said. "I think we can go there and play at the same level. We're a team, we're a unit, so even if they've got more individual skills, I think we can play at the same level."

The Sailors could see the Monarchs at the Santa Barbara tournament, Sept. 20 and 21, which Newport Harbor is competing in for the first time. First, the Sailors play a nonleague game Saturday at The Bishop's School of La Jolla.

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