How do you say "flair for the dramatic" in Italian?
Don't ask Newport Harbor High senior Luca Cupido to translate. He showed everyone at the Sailors' pool late Saturday afternoon exactly what it means with his play.
Sure, Mater Dei High beat Newport Harbor, 16-10, to capture the South Coast Tournament title for the fourth straight year. It's also the third straight year that the Monarchs (11-0) have topped the Sailors (9-3) in the finals of this tournament.
But Cupido, the transfer from Italy, easily provided the moment of the match as he lined up to take a penalty shot late in the third quarter against Mater Dei's 6-foot-9 goalie, McQuin Baron. Before he took it, he said he heard from a couple of the Monarchs' players.
He quieted them with the shot, a spectacular lob into the right corner over the charging Baron. Who lobs on a penalty shot? Luca Cupido does. And he celebrated emphatically after the goal, raising his arms to the crowd before engaging in some more words with Mater Dei junior Matt Payne. The referee then issued Cupido a minor misconduct penalty.
"They were going, 'Oh, you're the Italian,' joking about me," said Cupido, who scored six goals in the final, after the match. "I wanted to shut up everybody. I said, 'OK, I'll show you. You challenge me, I'll show you.' The goalie could never arrive there [to save] that lob.
"[The celebration] was for the guys who were telling me I'm Italian. They were trying to intimidate me, but it wasn't good for them. If they try to intimidate me, I don't care. For me, it's better. I'll play even harder."
If the Sailors and Monarchs play again this year, it won't be until CIF. They're not playing a nonleague game this year, a move that Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn said he initiated. Mater Dei doesn't play in the Sailors' final regular-season tournament of the year, the S&R Sport Cup.
Mater Dei Coach Chris Segesman, whose program has now won a daunting 90 straight games, said he did not have any one person assigned to play defense on the dynamic Cupido in Saturday's final. He said he wasn't changing his team's game plan just for one player.
Still, he fully recognized the excellence of that player. Segesman, a 2004 Olympian, said Cupido's lob penalty-shot goal was a "brilliant idea," but was less thrilled about the celebration.
"I think excitement in water polo is a good thing," Segesman said. "I think he needs to learn a little bit more respect for opposing teams, but I think it was the right shot. I'd throw a lob on McQuin too. He comes out super-big and is a tall goalie. It was a brilliant idea, and he executed it, so I give him credit for that.
"I just think he should show a little bit more respect at certain times in the game, but it happens. High school kids get excited. He was excited, and they were making a good run there, so I don't really blame him for doing it. Hopefully he looks back on [the celebration] and changes it for next time."
Newport Harbor pulled within 12-8 on the goal, and Cupido added another from the outside early in the fourth quarter. But Mater Dei countered with three straight scores, one each from Nick Lavayen, Jeff O'Brien and Matt Payne.
Mater Dei, which is top-ranked in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and has eight Newport-Mesa residents on its roster, remains the team to beat. Newport Beach resident Nick Silvers, a junior, had three goals and two steals. Newport Coast resident James Walters, a senior, had two goals and a steal while O'Brien also had two goals. Spencer Carroll, Neil LeVecke, Peter Seidner, Connor Talleur (CdM) and Luke Wyatt (CdM) are the other Newport Beach residents on Mater Dei.
Nick Lavayen and Kent Inoue both scored three goals for Mater Dei, which had a 9-4 halftime advantage.
Segesman said his team was a bit tired Saturday, but that he only sees the Monarchs getting better. Segesman said Jake Sanders, a transfer from University who plays center, will become eligible on Oct. 7.
Senior Mitchell Mendoza and junior Clay Davison each scored twice for the No. 3 Sailors in the final. Goalie Massimo Navarretta made nine saves.
"Of course, losing always hurts, but I think the players grew in confidence today," Lynn said. "That's the most important thing. I can see better communication, and more leadership from some of the older players ... With that, we still have a long ways to ago. We had five or six goals scored on us on the counterattack, and that's got to go away. One or two is acceptable, but not six."
Newport Harbor beat Back Bay rival Corona del Mar earlier Saturday in the semifinals, 10-6. Mater Dei got past Long Beach Wilson, 10-5.
Cupido had six more goals against the Sea Kings (3-4), Davison had two and Jack Mooers and Mendoza also scored.
Senior Jay Neiger led CdM with four goals, and Jack Trush had two. Senior Matt Sherburne had four steals and drew at least four exclusions.
But CdM struggled mightily on the power play, converting just one of 11 opportunities, though the Sea Kings did make two of three penalty shots.
In the tournament's third-place match, Wilson topped CdM, 10-8. Sherburne and juniors Garrett Spruth and Ashton Jajonie each scored twice.
"We're developing," said CdM Coach Barry O'Dea, whose team plays back at Newport on Saturday night in the Battle of the Bay game. "We've seen spurts, and now we're just looking to find that total consistency at the end of it all. We had a good little run in that Newport game, then we fell off again. We missed some shots. Going one for 11 on six-on-five, that hurts, that's always going to hurt. But I thought our five-man [defense] was pretty good. It'll be a good game next Saturday."
O'Dea's team will need to slow Cupido, who scored two goals in the first quarter of Saturday's semifinal to help Newport Harbor open with a 3-0 advantage. And he also finished strong, scoring three goals in the final quarter, one on a backhand.
"He's a good player," O'Dea said. "We'll have a good plan next week; we'll be ready to go. He got away with a few push-offs, and that's his game. He got called for a couple, but he also got away with a couple. And, you know, our guys lost track of him a little bit there in the fourth quarter. That won't happen again."