Curtis Fink has a certain passion for the sport of water polo.
That might help explain how, at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, he is believed to have drawn the most exclusions this year for the Newport Harbor High boys' water polo team.
And if he is fouled outside of five meters, the senior can certainly put the shot away.
"I think he's one of the better offensive players in CIF," Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn said. "He's drawing a lot of exclusions, and he's doing well off the drives. He's got a really good shot, and he's a great kid. He's committed to water polo, loves water polo ... he has a good character for the sport."
Fink, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, showed that character in yet another key game last weekend. He had three goals and two assists in the Sailors' 9-7 victory over Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay, at the Sea Kings' pool.
But the other big statistic, which casual observers might overlook, was that Fink drew five exclusions. That really helped Newport Harbor win the game, as the Sailors converted seven of nine power-play opportunities.
"That's why I love [assistant coach] Pavle [Filipovic] and Robert as coaches," Fink said. "They do allow me a lot of freedom for movement on that 1-2 side. They've been teaching me a couple of tricks here and there, and it allows me do drives or post-ups. We've been working on it in practice together as a team. Definitely me and [Ryan] Warde, me and Preston [Lee] and me and Dan [Stevens] have all been working that side together. When someone else is moving, we know what they're trying to do. It works out well."
Fink often leads the charge. Coming into this weekend's Memorial Cup tournament in San Jose, Fink had team-highs of 42 goals and 34 steals. This is not surprising; last year he was second on the team in scoring to then-senior Farrel South, who was the Newport-Mesa Player of the Year. Fink had 54 goals on his way to first-team All-Sunset League status.
This year he will likely surpass that mark, but the Sailors don't have someone who will overpower offensively like South did. That's OK with Fink, who appears to thrive in the team environment.
"Honestly, we don't care where the goals come from," Fink said. "We just care that we get them, and that we worked together for them. It's not just someone going out there and taking a 10-meter shot. We have purpose, and it's clear what we're working for. It's not just something random; it's something that we worked for together."
Fink still comes up big in big moments. He was the one who overcame sickness last year to record a career-high six goals in a key league victory over Huntington Beach. The victory helped give the eventual league champion Sailors the upper hand in league.
When Newport Harbor, ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, met the Oilers again on Wednesday, it was another key moment. Both teams came into the contest undefeated, but only Newport Harbor left it without a blemish. Fink scored four goals in the team's 11-8 victory.
He has come a long way since he moved to Coto de Caza, from San Jose, when he was 5 or 6 years old. Before too long he was playing water polo at Club Split OC with Coach Peter Asic. Plenty of local talent, like Fink's Newport teammate Stevens, CdM graduate Ben Zepfel and Mater Dei's Jon and James Walters, was on that squad.
Fink said he also considered Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake for high school, but his family moved to Newport Beach just before his freshman year at Harbor. That year he was on the Sailors' undefeated frosh/soph team, before moving up to varsity as a sophomore.
He was a starter that year. Then, he suddenly wasn't.
"Technically I was for a while, but we went through some team changes," Fink said. "Toward the end of the season I was moved out of the starting position ... I didn't really let it set me back. I wasn't going to let it bug me. I knew I just had to work twice as hard."
Fink has continued to progress. Last summer he made his first national team, playing for the U.S. men's junior national team at the UANA Pan American Junior Championships in Montreal, Canada. Stevens, Newport graduate Chris Whitelegge and CdM players Reid Chase and Kyle Trush were also on the squad, which won silver.
Lynn, eyeing Fink's future in collegiate water polo, is pushing to see more progress on defense.
"He has to be more aware defensively," Lynn said. "If he picks up the defensive end like he does the offensive end, he's going to be a serious player. He does play defense; it's just the little things."
Fink agrees with his coach. He is certainly a smart player. Academically, he said he'll have a 4.0 grade-point average after this semester. He is currently taking three Advanced Placement classes, in Calculus BC, Environmental Science and American Government.