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Pharris Takes His Game Down the Road

Water polo: Goalkeeper remains a standout despite switch from Villa Park to Newport Harbor.


NEWPORT BEACH — Jon Pharris said his decision felt like a betrayal. After months of agonizing, he was transferring to Newport Harbor High, leaving his friends on the Villa Park water polo team without a goalkeeper.

And not just any goalkeeper. Last year as a sophomore, Pharris was considered one of the best in Orange County as he helped Villa Park advance to the Southern Section Division I title game. Spartan expectations for this season were high--and they still are, just not quite as lofty and they would be with Pharris on the team.

"I didn't want to let them down," Pharris said, "and I think I did by moving. Leaving that team was almost like defecting."

The move actually came last spring when the Pharris family bought a house on Lido Isle in Newport Beach. For the last few months of the last school year however, Pharris made the daily commute up the 55 Freeway to Villa Park.

The pull of water polo being strong, Pharris considered being a commuter student for his final two years of high school. "It's been the toughest decision in my life so far," he said. "If it was based on water polo only, there's absolutely no question I would have stayed at Villa Park but water polo is not life. It's only three months out of the school year." So in the middle of summer, Pharris took Villa Park teammate Joey Pacelli to lunch to break the news. It was time to move on, Pharris told him. The daily drive and the sense of isolation he felt living so far from most of his friends were too much of a burden.

Pacelli took it as well as could be expected and he and the rest of the Spartans don't seem to have ill feelings toward their former teammate, Pharris said.

Pharris was quickly embraced at Newport Harbor. Although he still misses Villa Park, he is steadily growing accustomed to his new surroundings. Of course, he immediately made himself at home in the pool.

Newport Harbor, a perennial power, wasn't expected to be very strong this season after losing most of its top players to graduation. Pharris' presence has changed those expectations.

"We were going to be a so-so team," Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett said. "Now we're going to be a good team. Let's say we probably went from being a non-playoff team to a playoff contender and we'll leave it at that."

The Sailors have had mixed results early in the season, going 3-4. But the defense seems to be solidifying in front of Pharris, who has given up an average of only 4.4 goals per game.

Pharris said he has made a dramatic improvement over last season when he was a second-team all-county selection and set the Villa Park single-season save record with 236. He and Foothill goalkeeper Nick Ellis trained regularly with the U.S. Junior national team last winter and spring, facing some of the nation's best young shooters.

"I'm not intimidated," Pharris said, "by anybody in high school anymore."

Pharris has never shrunk from competition and has always gravitated toward the action. He was a catcher on youth baseball teams, a goalkeeper in soccer. He wanted to be an ice hockey goaltender, but had to give up the sport because of time conflicts with water polo.

He usually played the field in youth water polo, but at Villa Park concentrated on guarding the net and immediately excelled. As a freshman he was good enough to share time as the starter on the varsity, playing the second and fourth quarters of most games.

Last year as the full-time starter, he only got better. "His reactions are excellent," Villa Park Coach Jeff Ehrlich said. "He seems to know where the next pass is going to go. He gets his body in position and reacts to the shot.

"I think he's the best goalie in CIF at this point."

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