When a tie feels good

WHITTIER — Sophomore-to-be Carly Christian made a hard drive, took the pass from Catherine Carpenter and slammed the ball into the cage.

Senior-to-be Sarah Wilkey stepped up to make a big five-on-six save late in the game.

Incoming sophomore Elissia Schilling showed off big-time moves at two meters, spinning away for open looks at the goal and drawing multiple exclusions.

These were just some of the highlights on Friday afternoon at Whittier High. The pieces are new this summer for the Newport Water Polo Foundation 18-and-under girls, but they're coming together fine, thank you very much.

Newport nearly pulled off what could have been the upset of the USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. In the end, the No. 12-seeded Sailors played No. 2-seeded NorCal to a 7-7 tie.

NorCal won the three-team pool in the platinum division by way of goal differential; NorCal beat the third team, Stanford White, by a larger margin than Newport. As such, NorCal will make top eight in the tournament, while the best Newport can finish is ninth.

The tie against the "all-star" team from up north, though, certainly felt like a win for the Coach Bill Barnett's locals from Newport Harbor High.

"We're ranked No. 12, but we knew we could beat them," said incoming senior Mary Rose Wight. "We just wanted to come out really aggressive, and we almost got them."

Newport, which has just two returning starters to its varsity high school team in Carpenter and fellow senior Kailyn Obenauer, has been making progress. Newport led NorCal 5-3 at the half, as Wight, Presley Pender, Obenauer, Christian and Schilling all scored first-half goals.

NorCal Coach Chris Dorst dug into his team.

"You've got two quarters to get it together," Dorst said. "You're getting pushed around out there."

NorCal wouldn't go away. It scored four straight goals — two of them backhand, all of them from set — in the third quarter for a 7-5 advantage. Kelsey Nolan scored the last two.

But Newport, behind the defense of players like Wilkey, Carpenter and incoming junior Maddy McLaren, held NorCal scoreless for the final eight-plus minutes of the game.

"I think we played good," said McLaren, who had a team-high three steals. "They just got quick shots, and we just weren't ready for it. But, at the end, we adjusted more to them trying to get inside water."

Newport's Sophie Leveque scored near the end of the quarter to pull the locals within 7-6, and Christian's drive with 5:08 left in the game tied the score at 7-7. It was the only score of the fourth quarter.

"We didn't back down," Christian said. "We wanted this so badly and we put up a fight."

Wilkey's five-on-six save with about two minutes left was big, but Newport was unable to convert its own six-on-five just after that. Nolan recorded a steal with 30 seconds left, and NorCal just held the ball, knowing its spot in the final eight was secure.

Wilkey, who is stepping into the starting goalie role after the graduation of USC-bound Krissy Burger, had 10 saves. She also came out to steal the ball when needed.

"I had to jump into it really quickly," Wilkey said. "I really don't have that much experience, so it's been kind of hard to adjust, but I think we're doing a good job all together. My defense has definitely been helping me out."

Even counting a goal in the very first minute of the game, Newport held NorCal to just two for eight on its power-play opportunities.

Newport also beat Stanford White, 18-8, in its earlier game Friday. Obenauer scored a team-high five goals, and McLaren and Carpenter scored three each. Wilkey and Isabella Donati combined for 10 goalie saves.

Newport has lost once in the first two days of the Junior Olympics, a close game Thursday against a Commerce team playing in its home pool. Although the locals can now finish no better than ninth, they head into this weekend with their heads high. They play at 9 a.m. today at Whittier High.

"I was very proud of them," Barnett said. "When we get a lead, we just have to learn how to hold the lead. It's something to work on, [but] we're young."

Other Scores

12U girls: Newport beat Diablo, 14-10, and San Diego Shores, 10-8.

14U girls: Nweport beat Diablo Black, 7-5, and tied with SET, 6-6.

16U girls: Newprot beat Kingfish, 13-2 and Sacramento, 8-4.

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