After dropping from No. 2 to No. 7 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll and finishing second in the Sunset League, the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team did not necessarily come into the playoffs with positive momentum.
But, while Wednesday's 8-5 home victory over Dos Pueblos in the first round was not especially convincing, the Sailors know that they still have an opportunity to put it all together.
They will face Foothill, a 19-4 winner over Woodbridge, in the Division 1 quarterfinals Saturday at Newport Harbor High. Coach Bill Barnett said the game would likely start at 11 a.m.
Newport Harbor (21-7) ultimately is trying to get to the Division 1 title match for the third straight year. The Sailors have beaten No. 2-seeded Foothill two of three times this year, but they will need to step up their game to make that statistic three of four.
"The only good thing is we won," Barnett said of Wednesday's match against Dos Pueblos, a team the Sailors beat by a much wider margin, 13-4, in the Irvine Southern California Championships on Feb. 6. "But we did not play well. We're going to have to play much better if we're going to beat Foothill ... We were a step behind in almost every phase of the game today, but hopefully we can get it together for Saturday. Saturday is the litmus test, so to speak."
The Sailors led Dos Pueblos just 2-0 after the first quarter. The visiting Chargers (10-16), the third-place team from the Channel League, could have been closer, but Newport senior goalkeeper Cleo Harrington made a couple of big saves in the quarter. The first came when nobody picked up Toni Shackelford on the counterattack, but Harrington was able to get the block. Just more than one minute later, the team captain Harrington made another nice save on a sweep shot from center by Stanford-bound Dos Pueblos senior Shannon Cleary.
Newport Harbor began to pull away in the second quarter. Heidi Fults found Isabel Leveque for a power-play goal, then Fults scored herself from the outside. Ellie Reid added a strike from the right on Kate Pipkin's pass, giving the Sailors a 5-0 lead with 3:32 left in the half.
"We played carelessly in some parts," Dos Pueblos Coach Chris Parrish said. "I think turnovers cost us at least three goals, going into the end of the first half. It's a little frustrating."
Pipkin had a team-high three goals for the Sailors, two of them coming from set, and she added two assists. Reid and Fults each scored and had a pair of assists as well, while junior defender Rachel Whitelegge had a goal and five steals. Christina O'Beck added to her team-best 61 goals.
Dos Pueblos junior Jordan Williams, who led her team with three goals, scored a six-on-five goal late in the first half. But the Chargers never got closer than four goals until the very end, when Shackelford scored on the counterattack with 36 seconds left in the game.
Harrington had four saves and Carlee Kapana three for the Sailors. One of Kapana's came on a penalty shot.
"It's important to not doubt ourselves," said the Harvard-bound Harrington. "I think half of the time, we beat ourselves. It's not that the team is better than us, it's that we let them be better than us during a game. I think that's the hardest thing to watch, to watch our morale go down and watch teams capitalize on that. But I think we need to maintain an overall positive attitude, not get frustrated with each other and be confident in ourselves ... Having the right mindset is huge, especially in these big games."
Harrington, last year's Newport-Mesa Co-Player of the Year, would like nothing more than to get back to the Division 1 title match. The underdog spirit that they have embodied during her time with the team is still alive and well.
"It's weird," Harrington said. "Just to think that, at most, I have three games left with this team is crazy. I just want to make the most of it."