"That's really nice," Harrington said. "It's amazing. I'm so flattered that so many people support me so much, and think of me at such a high level. Last year, to be placed on the same level as [CdM goalie] Alex [Musselman], to get to do that [pre-CIF finals feature] article with her, that was such an honor too."

Harrington said she is glad she played well in Santa Barbara, because she felt she had started out slow this season. If there is one thing about her, it is that she is honest and genuine. Barnett said she is "always happy," but it goes beyond that.

She is a positive force for Newport Harbor, ranked No. 3 in Division 1. She is mature for her age, a sweet girl who still manages to be one of the most competitive athletes in the water at any time.

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"She never is in a bad mood," Newport senior defender Avery Peterson said. "She's always helpful, and wants to help anyone in any way. There's nothing you can say bad about her. It's hard to describe. She never lets any obstacles get in her way. She doesn't see any losses as a bad thing, it's more something as a team that we need to work on.

"Last year, she was really young, but she obviously showed anybody who had any doubt in her. In my opinion, she's the best goalie in CIF right now. She's gained a lot of experience from last year and is using it to become even better, which is hard to believe."

Harrington is one of two great goalies for Newport Harbor. The other is sophomore Carlee Kapana, who plays on junior varsity. Kapana played for Team USA at the FINA Youth World Championships in Perth, Australia, last month.

Harrington said it's great to have Kapana as a teammate. While Kapana was gone in Australia, the Sailors had field players fill in as goalie during practice.

"It was pathetic how bad we were compared to Cleo," Newport senior Carolyn Smith said. "During that time, I just gained so much respect for her as a goalie. She can block everything, practically. Cleo is definitely the best goalie in CIF, no question. She's one of the only goalies that gets to say that she's won a CIF Division 1 title, as a sophomore … [and] I haven't heard her say one mean thing to anybody. She's kind of like a glue, I guess. She meshes well with everybody.

"With Cleo, it's not just in the pool. You can talk to her about anything outside of it, and she's a really good listener. In the water or on land, you can just have your trust in 'Clee.'"

Now water polo is meshing well with the Harrington family. Kelly, a hairdresser, does the hair of many of the girls on the team. And both of Cleo's younger brothers, Elliott and William, now play the sport.

Cleo's father Geoff, who works for a law firm, also is a musician. He is the singer/songwriter/keyboardist for the electro-rock group Mphase.

The Harringtons are no doubt extremely proud of their daughter, who is composing another great season for the Sailors. She also has over a 4.0 grade-point average at Harbor but seems to be doing even better as a person.

"Everyone has their bad days and can say stuff they don't mean," Cleo Harrington said. "I'm not going to claim to be perfect and always positive, but I try to keep a pretty positive outlook. Some people choose to see negative things in people and situations, and other people just try to see the best. That's what I try to do.

"I'm trying to carry that same pattern we had last season into this season. I think we're all trying to just keep a positive attitude when things aren't going our way."

Last year the Sailors were underdogs much of the year, but ended on a 16-match winning streak and didn't lose after the Santa Barbara TOC. With their goalie heating up, they are gaining momentum as they try to defend their CIF title.

They know that Harrington will keep working hard, and do it with a smile.

*

Cleo Harrington

Born: Feb. 29, 1996

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-8

Sport: Water polo

Coach: Bill Barnett

Favorite food: Mexican food

Favorite movie: "Elf"

Favorite athletic moment: Winning the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title last year.

Week in review: Harrington, a junior goalkeeper, had 47 total saves in four games at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, helping Newport Harbor finish second place.

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: mjszabo