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Girls' Water Polo: 'Coach B' still a master at work

Newport Harbor head man, in his 46th year of coaching, can win his 16th CIF championship Saturday night.

February 22, 2013|By Matt Szabo
  • Newport Harbor High Coach Bill Barnett guides his girls' water polo team into Saturday night's CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game.
Newport Harbor High Coach Bill Barnett guides his girls'… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

It is the reaction that might be expected when Bill Barnett is told that he is going to be the subject of a feature story in the newspaper.

The eyebrow of the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo coach raised just slightly.

"What do you want to write about me for?" Barnett asked in a tone that might be mistaken as a growl, except that's really just the way he talks now.

The response is classic Barnett. He has always preferred that his student-athletes receive the credit for the success of his teams.

But Barnett, now 70, has a coaching resume that nobody can match. He has been coaching at Newport Harbor since 1966, and the numbers really speak for themselves.

He won 10 CIF titles as coach of the Sailors boys' program. He has won five more titles since taking the girls' job when it became a CIF sport in 1998. Barnett can add to that number Saturday night, when the Sailors play rival Corona del Mar for the Division 1 title at 6:30 p.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center.

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Nobody else around Orange County really has credentials like those. Then add in the fact that he was head coach of the Olympic men's water polo team in 1988 and 1992, and the word "legend" starts coming into play.

Former Newport Harbor water polo players like Ross Sinclair (class of 2003), who now plays professionally in Australia, certainly wouldn't argue with that.

"I credit my game and success today to my freshman year where he drilled us non-stop on the most basic fundamental drills," Sinclair said in a tweet. "His teams may not be the most talented, but they clearly are the most fundamentally sound. Any 'Coach B' team will be able to play defense, pass/shoot correctly and that ultimately will give them a chance to win!

"Bottom line, he is the Phil Jackson of water polo. Actually, they should say Phil Jackson is the Bill Barnett of basketball!"

But, once again, Barnett scoffs.

"What is a legend?" he said. "What is the definition of a legend? I don't look at myself as a legend. I look at myself as a good coach, but not a legend. And I'm sure there are people who would disagree with [me being a good coach], too."

What he is at Newport Harbor is an institution. He has coached Olympians like Eric Lindroth, James Bergeson and Kevin Robertson, and the Newport Harbor press defense is renowned in the water polo community.

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