Sailors pull away

CORONADO — Backhand shots from set are not exactly a new thing for the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team.

Last year, though, Christina O'Beck wasn't the one taking them.

Elissia Schilling has graduated and is now at UCLA. Now O'Beck is a senior, and two meters is her territory.

She scored three backhand goals, part of a five-goal effort as Newport Harbor pulled away and won at Coronado, 14-2, in the Sailors' season opener Saturday.

"I have to think about going in there first now," O'Beck said. "It's definitely different."

But center is a strength overall for the Sailors, last year's CIF Southern Section Division 1 finalists who are currently ranked No. 3 in Division 1. Junior starters Chanel Schilling, Kate Pipkin and Rachel Whitelegge also can set.

"That's also a nice thing," O'Beck said. "If I'm guarding and I can't make it down, there's always somebody down there who can go [into set]. It's also an advantage, I feel like."

The Sailors did not have much of an advantage in the first half against the host Islanders. They led just 4-2 at halftime, on two of O'Beck's backhanders plus goals by Pipkin and Ellie Reid.

Newport Harbor went scoreless in the second quarter.

"I thought we were pretty sloppy in the first half," Coach Bill Barnett said. "A lot of bad passes. In the second half we played better defense and we countered harder."

But the Sailors owned the third quarter. First it was O'Beck striking from six meters, then University of Hawaii-bound senior Heidi Fults scored on transition on Chanel Schilling's pass. Whitelegge added a six-on-five goal from the left, then O'Beck scored again in transition on Pipkin's assist.

Pipkin scored on the counter on Reid's pass with 29 seconds left in the quarter, and the Sailors were rolling.

Fults and Whitelegge each scored twice for the Sailors, while Schilling had two steals and drew a pair of exclusions.

Barnett was able to play everyone on the roster. Junior Isabel Leveque also scored, Long Beach State-bound senior Sydney Kohlenberger had a pair of field blocks, and junior Emma Erickson added a steal.

Harvard commit Cleo Harrington, last year's Newport-Mesa Co-Player of the Year, made five saves in the first half. Junior Carlee Kapana had six saves and three steals in the second half. Barnett said that he planned to continue rotating the strong goalies throughout the season, as he did during the summer and fall.

"They played pretty well, both of them," Barnett said. "It's really hard to say which one's better than the other. They're both doing very good."

Cassidy Wiley and Katy Gauvin each scored for Coronado (1-2). Carolyn Gauvin had three steals, and Isabella Cuellar made five saves.

The Sailors will face much tougher competition in the coming weeks. They play host to Long Beach Wilson on Tuesday before tangling with Foothill in a road game Friday. The Knights are ranked No. 2 in Division 1.

Fults said that will be a good challenge, but that she's excited for the season. Many of these seniors and juniors have been playing together since 14-and-under water polo.

Several of the players were key components on last year's Newport junior varsity team, which won the Costa Mesa varsity tournament for the second straight year and finished an impressive ninth at the Holiday Cup.

"We're definitely a young team, but we've been playing for so many years together," Fults said. "We've just been looking forward to this year a lot. We've been talking about it for years and years, so I think that helps. We're definitely close out of the pool, not just in the pool, so we're really excited."

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