Elissa Schilling of Newport Harbor High, third from left, snaps a backhanded shot against Edison's Risa Burke during a Sunset League game at Newport Harbor High School on Wednesday. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / January 2, 2013)

NEWPORT BEACH — The Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team went into its Sunset League opener against Edison on Wednesday night as a big favorite.

The Sailors are ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and the Chargers are No. 8. But Edison Coach Diggy Riley, a Newport Harbor alumnus, found a bit of inspiration before the matchup.

He said earlier Wednesday he watched video of the Chargers' victory over Newport Harbor in the third-place match of the 2010 Irvine Southern California Championships. That match remains the only time Edison has ever topped Newport Harbor in girls water polo.

"It was a great video," Riley said. "I just happened to be flipping through and I found that, and it said, 'First-ever win over Newport.' I'm like, 'Whoa, I gotta watch this!' "

Riley no longer has then-senior Danielle Warde, who now stars at UC Irvine. The Sailors were the stronger team Wednesday.

Senior co-captains Elissia Schilling and Carly Christian had three goals each as Newport Harbor prevailed, 11-5, in the league opener at Newport Harbor High.

Newport Harbor (7-3), which has won five of six Sunset League titles since joining the league in 2006-07, made sure to jump ahead early. The Sailors scored on their first three possessions.

First it was sophomore Rachel Whitelegge converting a six-on-five situation, then senior defender Avery Peterson on a rebound goal. Whitelegge then found Christian on an outside shot from about five meters, and the Sailors had a 3-1 advantage after the first quarter.

"We couldn't underestimate them," said Peterson, who had two goals, a team-high three steals and two field blocks. "Coach [Bill Barnett] was telling us that if we gave them one or two goals in the beginning, that they were going to have a lot more confidence. We needed to go out really strong and just put them down in the very beginning."

Edison (6-10) pulled within 3-2 early in the second, when Harvard-bound senior lefty Melissa Balding scored from two meters. But Christian scored twice in a four-goal run that gave Newport Harbor a 7-2 halftime advantage.

"We really wanted to make sure we were countering out of the backcourt harder," Peterson said. "We wanted to press harder and force them to shoot bad shots, so we could counter. A lot of girls did really well on the counter. That's something we've been working really hard on in practice."

Senior Carolyn Smith and junior Christina O'Beck added goals for Newport Harbor, and junior goalie Cleo Harrington made six saves.

Balding scored a team-high three goals for Edison, and San Diego State-bound senior Risa Burke scored twice. Junior goalie Josette Santos helped keep the Chargers competitive with 11 saves, and sophomore Lyndsie Williams had three steals and drew three exclusions.

Riley said Santos was his team's MVP at last weekend's Holiday Cup, in which Edison placed 11th. But the Chargers went nearly two full quarters without scoring against the Sailors, before Balding's power-play strike with 6:09 left in the game. Moments earlier, Schilling had scored her third goal on Christian's assist to give Newport Harbor an 11-2 lead.

The Chargers were also missing a starter, as Riley said speedy lefty Delaney Cleveland was in New Zealand.

"I just would love to play them again, at full strength too," Riley said. "I love playing Newport. You want to play the best, and I've always enjoyed playing against Barnett ... You just can't spot Newport three [goals] and think we're going to come back and win it. But I thought we competed hard."

The teams could meet again in one of the two remaining regular-season tournaments. But for now, the Sailors, who play host to The Bishop's School of San Diego on Saturday, like the direction they're headed after placing third in the Holiday Cup.

"A lot of girls have stepped up," Peterson said. "We're happy with the way we're playing right now."

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo