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Gilchrist makes things break Tars’ way

Senior two-meter standout makes waves in the pool, and also rides them against world-class competition.

January 08, 2010|By Barry Faulkner

It’s no surprise that Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo coach Bill Barnett has come to rely upon senior Kaleigh Gilchrist most when the game is on the line. A point break is, after all, more familiar to the world-class junior surfer than a breaking point.

“She’s an absolute warrior,” Barnett said of the 5-foot-9 center, who has helped the Sailors become one of the elite teams in Orange County as well as CIF Southern Section Division I. “A warrior and a competitor. She just does not want to lose.”

Gilchrist, who has been playing water polo slightly longer than her initiation into surfing at age 10, said her favorite part of performing below the surface in the pool, is the aforementioned crunch time.

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“I’m really competitive, so I especially like being in a close game,” said Gilchrist, who has helped the Tars produce an 8-1 record, including a crucial Sunset League-opening triumph over previously unbeaten Los Alamitos on Wednesday. “I like it when it’s really intense and kind of nerve-wracking.”

It’s at these pivotal moments when, Gilchrist said, she covets the challenge of keeping her cool.

“I think my role this season is to keep everyone together and provide leadership,” said Gilchrist, who last season led the Sailors in goals (97) and added 72 steals and 48 assists en route to Newport-Mesa Dream Team and second-team All-CIF recognition. “During the tough games, I want us to not lose our composure.”

With Gilchrist in the lineup, Newport Harbor rarely loses, period. She helped the Sailors claim the CIF Division I crown as a sophomore scoring the tying goal with 36 seconds left in regulation in the title showdown with Back Bay rival CdM that the Tars won in overtime.

This season, the USC-bound co-captain has been a consistent scoring threat and also helped in another role, Barnett said.

“She leads the six-on-five, which is very important,” Barnett said. “We switched her from a position of scoring to more of a passing role and our six-on-five has vastly improved since. She has very good vision.”

Those who see Gilchrist operate at two meters, also see the raw physical power that sets her apart riding waves.

“She has good size and she’s very strong,” Barnett said. “Surfing has obviously helped her develop physically.”

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