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Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week -- Aaron Yarnal: Thriving in the

February 22, 2001

clutch

Barry Faulkner

When he arrived at Newport Harbor High after attending a tiny

private parochial school, Aaron Yarnal was a shy freshman without an

identity or many friends.

'Nothing separated me," he recalled. "I was on the junior varsity

basketball team, but, at Newport Harbor, that's not quite enough."

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Four years later, Yarnal is renowned on campus for more than his hair

style. And, as the go-to guard on one of the best teams in the school's

71-season hardwood history, he continues to cement a lasting impression

among his peers and beyond.

The 6-foot, three-year varsity performer has come up big many times

this season for the Sailors (21-6), who continue their CIF Southern

Section Division I-A playoff quest Friday with a quarterfinal date at No.

3-seeded Villa Park.

Yarnal's penchant for producing in the clutch was apparent in the

Tars' first-round playoff win Friday over Santa Fe.

After the Chiefs had rallied to take a 50-49 lead, the Daily Pilot

Athlete of the Week went to work.

He netted a jumper with 1:20 left to regain the lead. He then hit a

10-foot leaner with 30 seconds left to up the advantage to 53-50 in the

eventual 55-50 triumph. He finished with 22 points, despite having what

Coach Larry Hirst described as the worst case of a virus that swept

through the Harbor roster the week of the game.

While offense is his calling card -- he averages 15.8 points -- he

also occupies a pivotal defensive role, according to Hirst.

"The best aspect of his game is that we're able to put him on the

other team's No. 1 offensive guard," Hirst said. "For most players, that

would really take away from their offensive game, not only energy-wise,

but focus-wise. But Aaron has shown the ability to excel at both ends,

even when he has the toughest defensive assignment."

Defense is but one improvement Yarnal has made in his game this

season, according to his coach. Hirst believes he has become a more

consistent outside shooter, makes better decisions on whether to drive or

pull up from the perimeter, and has become much more coachable.

"I think he just listens better," said Hirst, whose assessment was

echoed by his star guard.

"Listening more is probably a good way of saying I'm talking a lot

less," Yarnal said. "I finally learned that coach is always right and

I've got to accept that fact. If coach says I did something wrong, I

probably did. There was a time when I would have spoken up and tried to

defend myself. But, as a three-year varsity guy, I can't talk back,

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