Girls' Water Polo: Sailors clamp down

LAKE FOREST — The message was not exactly new, but Newport Harbor High girls' water polo coach Bill Barnett gave it to his girls anyway before Saturday's nonleague game at El Toro.

Barnett told his players that he wanted to see them play good defense to start the game. And it was mission accomplished for the Sailors after posting a 10-5 victory.

Newport Harbor (4-1) limited El Toro (3-3) to just three goals in the final three quarters. The host Chargers did seem to be making it interesting before the Sailors put the clamps down.

El Toro junior Camila Martinez scored from set early in the second quarter, tying the score at 3-3. But the Sailors scored six unanswered goals over the next 14-plus minutes.

By the time El Toro's Shelby Rascon scored from the outside early in the fourth quarter, the Sailors were up 9-3.

"That's one of the things that I emphasized at the beginning of the game, that we had to play good defense to start with," Barnett said, who laughed as he added some alliteration to his thoughts. "That was my No. 1 message in my pregame preamble."

Alliteration can be fun. Coming off a 7-5 Battle of the Bay loss to rival Corona del Mar on Dec. 20, the Sailors found getting a win to be an enjoyable experience as well.

Junior Kate Pipkin led everyone with four goals. Senior Heidi Fults also had a strong game with two goals and two steals. Senior goalie Cleo Harrington (fives saves) and junior Carlee Kapana (four) each were effective in a half of action.

Christina O'Beck, Rachel Whitelegge (three steals), Ellie Reid and Sydney Kohlenberger all added goals for the Sailors, who got some breathing room late in the second quarter.

Whitelegge scored near-side from the left with 1:48 left in the half, giving the Sailors a 5-3 advantage. Then Kohlenberger scored on a lob from the left with 11 seconds left, helping the Sailors earn a 6-3 halftime edge.

El Toro earned a six-on-five chance just before halftime, but Coach Brett McCleave told his players to hold the ball. That seemed to backfire, though, when Fults won the sprint to start the third quarter, allowing the Sailors to get back to even strength.

Then it was Newport Harbor's Chanel Schilling earning an exclusion inside. Fults put the shot away, and suddenly the Sailors were up, 7-3. O'Beck earned her goal on a strong turn and shot at two meters, then Fults added another power play goal with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

"Our passing, that's just what screwed us so much in the Battle of the Bay game," said Fults, who also had a pair of assists Saturday. "We put more shots in the cage [today]. I feel like our passing and shooting were a lot better. We were a little bit more intense too. Our counter was a lot better. Battle of the Bay game, I don't really feel like we played our normal play. We definitely got it together more in this game."

Rascon and sophomore Madison Parenteau led El Toro with two goals each. Senior center Lauren Norheim drew three exclusions and sophomore goalie Tori Rainone made seven saves.

Barnett characterized the effort as a bit rough around the edges. He pointed to the six-on-five, where the Sailors converted just two of six chances in the first half. But again, the Sailors were strong defensively, as El Toro converted just one of its five power-play chances in the game.

"We've got some things to work on," said Barnett, whose team opens the annual Holiday Cup at home against Corona Santiago on Friday at 8:30 a.m.

After New Year's, Newport Harbor gets into the heart of its schedule. The Holiday Cup is followed by the Sunset League opener, against Edison on Jan. 8.

Fults said that the Sailors' comeback 8-7 win at Foothill on Dec. 13 shows what the team can do.

"We're still a little bit inconsistent," she said. "There's a couple of teams that always seem to battle it out every year, and our win against Foothill showed us that we're definitely in that [group]. Then again, we lost to CdM. I feel like if we play good, anything can happen. It just depends on who shows up to play."

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