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Whitelegge coming into her own

Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week

Junior defender, who shined in quarterfinal upset of Foothill, has been big in Sailors' run back to Division 1 title game.

February 28, 2014|By Matt Szabo
  • Newport Harbor High's Rachel Whitelegge is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week.
Newport Harbor High's Rachel Whitelegge is the… (Don Leach, Daily…)

They say that defense wins championships, and that always has seemed to be true for the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team.

But what makes up a defense? The most obvious piece to the casual fan is the goalie, and the Sailors have two great ones in senior captain Cleo Harrington and junior Carlee Kapana. Everyone in the stands is able to recognize when a goalie makes a huge block.

But what about the center defender, whose perfect positioning on the play made the center shoot the ball with a little less force than she wanted? What about the center defender, who caused the "ball under" call that allowed the team to score a quick counterattack goal?

It might be the least appreciated position in the sport. Newport Harbor junior Rachel Whitelegge knows this, yet she keeps working.

"I feel like I'm supposed to be out there and do my defender thing," Whitelegge said. "If somebody notices, they notice. If they don't, I'm still going to be there, playing defense. Not getting a bunch of spotlight hasn't been a crucial thing for me."

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Whitelegge has something more important: her knowledge of the game. She is able to play aggressive set defense, yet she rarely gets into foul trouble. The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week has stepped up this year for the Sailors, who play against Laguna Beach for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title Saturday at 1 p.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center.

Whitelegge earns the honor for her play in last weekend's 5-4 quarterfinal win over Foothill. She had her usual all-around game, with an assist, a steal and two exclusions drawn. And she played excellent defense on Foothill junior Cana Manzella, who scored just one goal. Manzella is one of the top centers in CIF.

The Sailors used an effective drop defense on Manzella, which helped fellow Newport junior Kate Pipkin record six steals. But Whitelegge's individual defense also shined.

"I've grown up guarding her in games, then she'd get moved up [a level] and she wouldn't be there," Whitelegge said. "She is a great center, and it's hard guarding her, because she's really strong. It's just one of those things. You have to be ready at any instant for the ball to come in, or to find that quick opportunity where she'll have a weak point."

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