To say that Luca Cupido provided memorable moments this year for the Newport Harbor High boys' water polo team would be a bit of an understatement.
Cupido, a senior transfer from Italy, always seemed to be turning heads on the Sailors' pool deck.
Two plays specifically come to mind. There was the penalty shot lob of Mater Dei's 6-foot-8 senior goalkeeper McQuin Baron in the final of the South Coast Tournament. And there was the backhand shot from mid-tank that went in at the buzzer, accentuating the Sailors' 13-7 win over Huntington Beach in a battle for first place in the Sunset League.
Flashy plays were no problem for Cupido. But, as impressive as they were, they weren't what earned him the honor of being the 2013-14 Daily Pilot Dream Team Newport-Mesa Player of the Year.
Cupido, who is bound for Cal, gets the award for his leadership on Coach Robert Lynn's young Sailors squad.
"I appreciated playing for this team, giving everything I could for my teammates," Cupido said. "Playing with friends was important. You have to have fun and enjoy what you're doing."
Cupido certainly did that. Individual season scoring statistics were not available, but he was the Sailors' leading scorer. He was the Sunset League MVP and a first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection, after helping the Sailors (23-5) reach the semifinals before losing, 9-6, to eventual champion Harvard-Westlake.
Lynn said he believes Cupido was by far the best player in CIF. The Division 1 Player of the Year award went to Baron, but Lynn knows how much Cupido meant to his team.
Lynn, in his third year at Newport Harbor, is a two-time U.S. men's senior national team Olympic assistant coach. Don't be surprised if Cupido makes it to that stage as well. In the weeks following the high school season, Cupido, who has dual citizenship, was invited to train with Team USA.
Before the season started, the Sailors were thought to be rebuilding. But transfers Cupido and senior goalkeeper Massimo Navarretta made a big difference.
"He's a great player and a great person," Lynn said of Cupido. "Just his competitiveness" stood out to Lynn.
"The best thing about Luca was his ability to make friends," Lynn said. "It was a team thing. He brought everyone with him ... he brought a desire to compete."
Cupido will be gone from Newport Harbor next year, but that work ethic and competitive nature should stick with the returning Sailors. And in that sense, his brief three-month run with the Sailors was even more valuable.
"To me, it was a great season that I will never forget," Cupido said.
Here's a look at the other nine members of the 2014-14 Newport-Mesa Boys' Water Polo Dream Team:
Corona del Mar
Sherburne, a senior center and co-captain, was hard to handle at two meters. He led CdM (17-12) with 89 goals, helping the Sea Kings win a share of their 15th straight Pacific Coast League title and advance to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals, where CdM gave three-time defending champion Mater Dei a run for its money. Sherburne, the only returning varsity player from the year before, used an effective sweep shot. Yet Coach Barry O'Dea also praised his leadership out of the water. He was the Pacific Coast League MVP and a first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 selection.