In a thrilling display of prowess and determination, the Newport Beach Water Polo Club’s 14-and-under girls secured their golden victory at this year’s USA Water Polo Club Junior Olympics. While last year’s triumph marked a poignant farewell for several Newport Harbor High graduates, this year’s success reveals the continued strength of the Sailors, even with the emergence of incoming high school freshmen.
The girls, led by their remarkable talents and the indomitable Valery Verdugo, triumphed in a heart-pounding 13-12 shootout victory over SOCAL in the title match, hosted at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine. Addison Ting, with a nerve-wracking final goal, sealed the championship, while Valery Verdugo showcased her excellence by netting two crucial goals during the shootout. Madison Mack added another goal, all this after the teams had battled to a 9-9 tie through regulation.
Terra Sage Lindberg, the formidable goalkeeper, showcased her skills by making three vital saves during the shootout, securing her team’s second Junior Olympics gold in three years, following their 12U title win in 2021.
The spotlight fell on Sadie Ricks, who, as head coach Christina O’Beck praised, proved to be a defensive superstar throughout the tournament. Ricks even managed to keep one of the country’s top players scoreless in a crucial quarterfinal win over 680 Drivers. Her MVP performance, which included scoring a goal in the final, exemplified her dedication to the team.
“I know that it’s the most I can do to help them. I want to try my best always to benefit the team, and I want to play for them,” Ricks humbly shared.
Most of these young athletes are set to become freshmen at Newport Harbor High this fall, while Lindberg is destined for San Clemente High.
In a remarkable display of teamwork and skill, Verdugo tallied three goals, two assists, and three steals in regulation. Gabby Alexson, positioned at center, contributed two goals and drew three exclusions, while Caroline Daniel, Campbell Pence (with two assists), and Madison Mack each added to the scoreboard.
A collective effort was essential, with Julia Winkelmann, Morgan Dollander, Charmae Price, Olivia Bryant, Sutton Lohman, Grace Ditteaux, Allison Baron, and Nikolai Pukke all playing pivotal roles in the team’s success.
The game reached a fever pitch with Newport Beach clinging to a 9-8 lead late in regulation, only for SOCAL’s Victoria Popejoy to level the score with a mere 35 seconds left on the clock, sending the match into a nail-biting shootout. However, the Newport Beach team remained resolute and unshaken.
Valery Verdugo encapsulated the team’s spirit, stating, “I think that’s something really special about our team, we never let anything affect us. Whenever things are going bad, I think we’re one of the most positive teams you’ll see. When things are going good, we’re the same.”
The victory was doubly sweet for the coaching staff, all of whom are alumni of Newport Harbor. O’Beck, Rachel Whitelegge, and Carlee Kapana reveled in their first Junior Olympics gold, whether as players or head coaches.
Newport Beach’s remarkable journey to victory was punctuated by an undefeated run in the tournament, culminating in an impressive 11-7 triumph over Vanguard in the semifinals. This outstanding achievement underlines the enduring legacy of excellence that defines the Newport Beach Water Polo Club, with Valery Verdugo shining brightly at its core.