Laguna Beach girls' water polo survives to win fifth straight Holiday Cup

The Laguna Beach High girls' water polo team won its fifth straight Holiday Cup title Saturday at Newport Harbor High.

The final against Mater Dei felt like anything but a holiday.


Leads didn't seem to last long throughout the game, both teams taking whatever momentum they could get. The score was tied 4-4 after the first quarter, 6-6 at halftime, 8-8 after the third quarter and 11-11 after regulation. Neither team gave an inch.

In the end, however, champions find ways to win.

Senior Alana Evans scored the eventual game-winning goal with one minute left in the second overtime period, assisted by freshman Nicole Struss, as Laguna Beach claimed a 12-11 overtime victory.

Corona del Mar finished third after beating Foothill 7-4 in the third-place game. Newport Harbor edged the Laguna Beach "B" (junior varsity) team 11-10 in the 11th-place game.

For defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion Laguna Beach, the Holiday Cup final was the most challenging game in two seasons. But the Breakers (10-0) still emerged victorious.

"After all of that, it felt amazing to come out with a win," said Laguna senior Evan Tingler, who had a game-high four goals and two assists. "We pushed so hard. That's probably the longest game I've ever played in my life, I'm not going to lie. We definitely grinded through it, and I was so proud of everyone."

Evans added three goals for Coach Ethan Damato's Breakers, who got two goals from senior Sophia Lucas. Senior goalie Thea Walsh made seven saves, but the three freshmen of Struss, Molly Renner and Rachael Carver also all impressed.

Carver had a goal and a steal for the Breakers, while Struss had a goal from five meters with 1:37 left in regulation that put Laguna Beach up by a goal. Mater Dei's Nicole Kresich tied it on her third goal, an outside shot with 33 seconds remaining.

"[The three freshmen] are all awesome and they definitely have made a really big impact," Evans said. "It's really fun having them in practice, because it just shows us that even though we're going to leave, there's going to be such amazing girls coming up in the next couple of years."

Evans scored the eventual game-winner on Struss' assist, bobbling the ball at first before completing a cross-cage lob over Mater Dei senior goalie Marley Presiado, a Newport Beach resident who played well and made eight saves.

"It was kind of like a mini-CIF game, so I was super-excited," Evans said. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to risk it, but I just saw the corner open so I took it."

Newport Beach resident Brooke Banta had a steal and field block for the Monarchs (7-1), who got three goals from Bella Baia, and two each from Grace Thawley and Maisie McPherson.

Coach Chris Segesman said that Mater Dei, which was missing Tea Poljak (finger injury) and Taylor Vangrin (at a funeral), didn't make any substitutions throughout the game. But the Monarchs finished just one for seven on the power play.

"The girls were playing well with each other," Segesman said. "You score 11 goals on [Walsh], you're feeling pretty good about yourself. I'm happy with the patience that we had on offense and the shot selections we had today. I thought we shot the ball well, [but] our six-on-five was horrendous and we didn't finish. You want to win a championship or beat Laguna in a big game, we're going to have to finish the six-on-five."

The win was the 41st straight for Laguna Beach, dating to the start of last season. The Breakers also improved to 14-0 all-time against Mater Dei.

Laguna Beach also got past Foothill 7-1 in the semifinals earlier Saturday. Walsh made 19 saves in the contest, setting the Breakers' single-game record. Etianne Manetta and Celia Huling had shared the previous mark of 18 saves.

Lucas also had a standout game with three goals, three field blocks and seven exclusions drawn in the semifinal. Alex Peros scored twice for the Breakers.

The Breakers and Knights play again Thursday in a nonleague game at Foothill. By then, the Holiday Cup will be in the rear-view mirror, but Damato said five in a row was definitely special.

"It's surreal," Damato said. "When we won the first time in Makenzie Fischer's junior year, I never would have imagined we'd rattle off five in a row. It's been a pretty special run."



The Sea Kings bounced back from their first defeat of the season, a 9-5 semifinal loss to Mater Dei on Saturday morning, to beat Foothill 7-4 for third place.

Senior captain Chloe Harbilas had all three of her goals in the second half of the third-place game for CdM (5-1). Junior Ella Abbott, sophomore Megan Peterson and freshman Grace Myers also scored, while senior goalie Erin Tharp made 13 saves. Junior Sophie Wallace chipped in three steals.

It was CdM's second victory of the season over Foothill.

"The thing I was happiest about was coming back as a team, as a unit, and making sure that we were ready to play [after the Mater Dei loss]," CdM coach Justin Papa said. "Our attitude was there, our intensity was there. For that game, the most important thing was coming out and playing good, solid water polo, and I think that's what we did."

The Sea Kings' offense seemed flat in the semifinal loss to Mater Dei, as they trailed 6-1 at halftime. Kira Hoffman, Abbott, Wallace, Harbilas and Peterson all scored single goals, while Tharp made 10 saves.

"We weren't there in our intensity, and that showed in the score," Papa said. "It was our first chance to play a top-two team in season, and I think the girls saw the kind of intensity and level of play that the top teams bring to the table. You can't fall asleep, you can't take it easy and you can't think for one second that those teams are going to let off the gas."



The Sailors finished 11th in the 16-team tournament after splitting two games Saturday. They lost 11-8 to Carlsbad in a ninth-place semifinal, before coming back for an 11-10 win over Laguna Beach "B" in the 11th-place match.

Senior captain Jessica Lynch had three goals in the Carlsbad game, with Kaela Whelan adding two. Annie Rankin, Linnea Kelly and Olivia Giolas also scored.

Lynch had four goals in the victory over Laguna "B," while Kili Skibby scored three. Rankin had two goals, while Whelan and Kelly also scored.

The Sailors (6-4) play host to Los Alamitos in a key Sunset League opener Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Twitter: @mjszabo