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Harrington a positive force for Sailors

Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week

Junior goalie had a strong weekend at Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, helping Newport Harbor finish second.

January 18, 2013|By Matt Szabo
  • Newport Harbor High junior girls' water polo goalie Cleo Harrington is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week.
Newport Harbor High junior girls' water polo goalie… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Film producer Samuel Goldwyn is credited with the phrase, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

Goldwyn — the "G" in "MGM" — never got to meet Newport Harbor High junior Cleo Harrington. But even he would probably be impressed with the story of the girl who has risen up through the prep water polo ranks over the last two years.

Harrington definitely has put in the work. She said she wasn't the most coordinated child growing up, and she had trouble finding a sport to stick with. Volleyball was an interest, but she didn't make the team at Ensign Intermediate School.

Water polo became her sport, starting relatively late at the end of seventh grade. But she only shared time in the cage in eighth grade and also her freshman year at Harbor.

That underdog spirit that the Sailors have embraced over the past two years? Harrington embodied it.

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But one night, everything seemed to change for her.

Harrington remembers it well, that night nearly two years ago at the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo banquet.

Graduating varsity goalie Sarah Wilkey, now at UCLA, got the coach's award at the banquet from Coach Bill Barnett. The legendary coach also had a few words to say.

"I remember him saying, 'Whoever's going to come up into this varsity goalie spot has some big shoes to fill,'" Harrington said. "Everyone was looking around. There were three other goalies, including myself, at the table. It was like, 'Who's going to do this?'"

Gazes eventually turned to Harrington. Keep in mind that the freshman had just turned 15 years old at the time. Becoming the varsity goalie seemed like a huge step.

After the banquet, Harrington's mother, Kelly, asked her oldest child if she wanted to go for the spot.

The answer was yes. Cleo began training with Merrill Moses, the U.S. men's national team goalie and two-time Olympian.

And less than a year later, days before her sweet 16, Cleo Harrington received a present she will never forget. The varsity starter stood soaking wet on the pool deck at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center, clutching the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship plaque with her teammates.

"It went by so fast," Harrington said. "It was crazy. It was just game after game, we were doing well and kept doing better. With the press and everything, it was amazing. To share that with my teammates, I grew so close with all of the girls on that team. I kept learning all throughout the season, up until the very end. I never expected it to be that great."

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