Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, likes to use the word “family” to describe his team in the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise.
That word, “family,” also was used a lot this season by the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team.
Coach Ethan Damato’s Breakers played for each other on their way to an undefeated season and their third CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in four years. They won another Orange Coast League title, all three major in-season tournaments and every game by at least four goals.
It was one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, team seasons in Division 1 history. And it also included one of the most impressive individual seasons.
Coming back to play high school water polo after winning gold for Team USA at the Rio Olympics, Aria Fischer did a bit of everything for the Breakers. The Stanford-bound senior played like a big Fisch in a small pond, leading the team with 103 goals and 61 steals and finishing second with 58 assists.
She dominated the individual awards along the way, as the league MVP and Division 1 Player of the Year. She was also the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions MVP and Outstanding Field Player at the Irvine Southern California Championships.
Add another award to the collection for Fischer. For her leadership in and out of the water, she is the 2016-17 Daily Pilot Girls’ Water Polo Dream Team Player of the Year.
“Ending my high school career with this season was really special, mostly because of the coaching staff and the girls and the memories that we made,” Fischer said. “Also, obviously finishing it off with a CIF win was a great way to go out, for sure.”
One of three senior captains for Laguna Beach (31-0) along with Bella Baldridge and Claire Sonne, Fischer embodied the winning mentality that the program has earned over the years. She played three seasons for the Breakers, taking her junior year off to train for the Olympics, where she was the youngest player for Team USA at age 17.
Fischer won CIF every time and, in those three seasons, Laguna Beach went a combined 81-1. Yes, Fischer only lost once in her distinguished high school career, in an nonleague game against Foothill as a freshman.
“I definitely wish I had that one back,” she said with a laugh. “[Older sister and Breakers alumna] Makenzie teases me about that now, so it’s great. But I just think it’s a testament to the program that Ethan has developed here, and the girls we’ve had over the past few years.
“To me, we were playing very beautiful water polo, and that just feels good. It feels good to have everyone contribute and to just flow really well together. For me, it was really fun to play that way. I knew I wanted to play that way for as many games as we could.”
Fischer thrived in any assignment Damato threw her way. In all three games against Division 1 finalist San Marcos, Fischer’s defense helped hold USC-bound Paige Hauschild scoreless. Against Mater Dei, Fischer typically matched up on the Monarchs’ talented junior left-hander Grace Thawley.
“I thought she had one of the most dominating high school seasons that I’ve seen as a coach, if not the most,” Damato said. “She did it in so many ways for us. Just leadership-wise, defensively, offensively. She kind of knew when to take over games, and knew when to set up her teammates and get other people involved. I thought it was pretty special overall.”
Fischer also was known for her work ethic. That’s something that will benefit her in college, where Aria will join older sister Makenzie, also a part of the gold medalist team in Rio, at Stanford.
“The work ethic and level of play was raised just having Aria in the pool, even at an everyday practice,” Damato said. “A lot was expected out of each individual. It didn’t need to be said a lot … but we were all holding ourselves to a really high level, coaches included. Having a player like Aria on the team raises everybody’s game, makes everybody better.”
Aria will rejoin her blood family, Makenzie, with the Cardinal as her family at Laguna Beach High will go its separate ways. But she remains proud to represent her city.
That’s something that will never change for her, and a big reason why she always knew she would come back to play high school water polo as a senior.
“I think the sport’s grown here, and I think that it will continue to grow,” she said. “It’s cool to see the community just rally around the water polo teams here. I mean, we had so many people at that CIF [title game]. It was cool that everyone was there supporting us. It’s just a great community in general.”
Here’s a look at the Daily Pilot Girls’ Water Polo Coach of the Year, as well as first-team and second-team Dream Team selections:
Coach of the Year
Damato earned CIF Southern Section Division 1 Coach of the Year honors, and he’s also the choice here after leading the Breakers to an undefeated season and the fifth CIF title in program history. Laguna undoubtedly had a lot of talent but Damato made sure things ran smoothly and also made sure every player understood her value to the team. In turn, the Breakers became one of the best passing teams that anyone had seen at the high school level.
“One of the best things that Ethan does is creating a family, and making sure that everyone is included in the family,” Fischer said. “With that ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality, we were able to combat whatever other teams would throw at us, because we’re doing it together.”
Laguna Beach, Senior
Baldridge was always an unselfish player, leading the Breakers in assists in each of her four years on varsity for a program total record of 321 assists. But she upped the ante this season with 91 assists, a single-season program record. Baldridge, a very intelligent left-hander bound for Stanford, also was second on Laguna with 82 goals scored and 59 steals. The team captain earned all-tournament team honors at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions and Irvine Southern California Championships, and Baldridge was also first-team All-Orange Coast League and CIF Southern Section Division 1.
Corona del Mar, Junior
Harbilas, the Pacific Coast League MVP, picked up her play on offense this season. She led the Sea Kings (20-9) and the league with 83 goals, and helped guide the team through some late-season adversity as well. Harbilas, who had a strong shot from center as well as the perimeter, added 22 assists and 38 steals as CdM made the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals. An Irvine Southern California Championships all-tournament team selection, she also earned first-team All-CIF Division 1 honors.
Huntington Beach, Senior
Hyham was one of four seniors for the Oilers who will go on to play in college, along with team captain Lauren Smith, Bella Vucurevic and Anna Borton. But it was Hyham, bound for Bucknell, who led Huntington Beach (18-11) with 67 goals scored and 65 steals, along with dishing out 33 assists. Hyham provided leadership as the Oilers very nearly won the Sunset League before finishing third place, as the program continues to grow. She was a first-team All-Sunset League and third-team All-CIF Division 1 selection.
Laguna Beach, Senior
Sonne may have been a bit unknown after being declared ineligible as a junior following a transfer from Villa Park. But she started out this season on fire, helping the Breakers win their fourth straight Holiday Cup. She provided leadership in and out of the pool as a team captain with her caring nature. Bound for Cal, Sonne finished with totals of 61 goals and 44 assists, both third on the team. She was an all-tournament team selection at the Irvine Southern California Championships, and earned first-team All-Orange Coast League and second-team All-CIF Division 1 accolades.
Corona del Mar, Sophomore
The versatile Wallace moved into a starting role this season and continued to develop as a player. She finished with 54 goals, which was second on the team, as well as 31 assists and 28 steals. She also provided one of the more memorable moments of the season, scoring on a buzzer-beating half-tank lob as CdM stunned Foothill in a Holiday Cup quarterfinal game. Wallace was a first-team All-Pacific Coast League selection.
Laguna Beach, Junior
Damato said before the season that he believed Walsh to be the top goalie in CIF, and she seemingly spent the rest of the season proving her coach right. In her first year as a varsity starter, she finished with 298 saves, a Laguna single-season record that ranked third in Orange County. Fiercely competitive no matter the score of the game, she earned Most Outstanding Goalie honors at the Irvine Southern California Championships. Walsh was a first-team All-Orange Coast League and first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 pick.
Laguna Beach, Junior
Lucas missed some time in the middle of the season with a finger injury, but she made her time in the pool count. A two-year starter and shutdown individual defender, she also did plenty on the offensive end, finishing fourth on the Breakers with 51 goals scored. Lucas also had 37 assists and 44 steals. She was a second-team All-Orange Coast League selection and first-team All-CIF Division 1 and will be an even bigger leader for the Breakers next season.
Corona del Mar, Junior
Laguna Beach, Junior
Huntington Beach, Junior
Newport Harbor, Junior
Costa Mesa, Sophomore