Some of the chatter going into the coronavirus-shortened water polo season pegged the Huntington Beach High boys as the best squad in Orange County.
The Oilers provided support for that claim on Wednesday, March 10.
Huntington Beach piled up six goals in the first period, never trailed and became the first Orange County team since 2017 to beat host Newport Harbor in a 17-11 triumph in the Surf League.
The past two seasons, Harvard-Westlake has mostly been the only team to defeat Newport Harbor but the Oilers accomplished it without one of its top players.
“It’s a big one for us,” Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “We are still growing and learning, and we want to get even better than this but to beat Newport at home, we’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”
The last county team to sink the Sailors was Mater Dei during the 2017 postseason. The Oilers also beat Newport Harbor that fall at the South Coast Tournament but not in league. Huntington Beach’s last league victory against the Sailors came from its 2016 team, the best in school history and CIF-SS Division 1 runner-up that fall.
Huntington Beach (2-0, 2-0) offense racked up the goals by balancing a swift counterattack with timely production from center.
Freshman Ryder Dodd paced the Oilers with six goals, including three on the counterattack. He also saved a goal late in the third period by sprinting behind goalie Gabe Haddad to grab a deflected shot before it floated into the cage.
Dodd’s UCLA-bound brother Chase added three goals but fueled a 2-meter attack led with several outstanding entry passes into center en route to three assists.
Senior center Tyler Padua scored one goal and drew four exclusions. Center James Rozolis-Hill didn’t play because of precautionary reasons, Branisavljevic said, but Ethan Spoon came off the bench to score from set.
Emerging left-hander sophomore Zach Bettino added four goals, including two in the opening period, while Hadded recorded 10 saves.
Chase Dodd credited his team’s counterattack and mentality for the victory.
“Probably the constant counterattack all four quarters,” he said. “They actually played really, really well on the counter defense but we just kept doing it.”
Chase Dodd added that his team viewed the match as an opportunity not be wasted.
“We’re fortunate we actually get the season,” he said. “For the past year, we never knew we were going to have a season. If it’s just a short, six games, we really want to make the most out of it.”
UCLA-bound center Eli Liechty led Newport with four goals and drew three penalty shots in the opening frame. The Sailors converted two of their four penalty shots in the game.
Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said fitness was a factor for his squad, which beat rival Harvard-Westlake on Monday. “We came off a good win on Monday, (and) had a hard practice yesterday,” he said. “It’s hard to back that up when you don’t train for 11 1/2 months consistently.”
The teams will play the second-round of the league on March 19. The Sailors play another tough non-league game Saturday against Loyola. “We’re just excited to play,” Sinclair said.