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Laguna Beach polo girls defend title at California State Championships

Laguna Beach polo girls defend title at California State Championships
Claire Kelly, shown in action on March 3, helped the Laguna Beach High girls' water polo team win its second straight California High School State Championships summer tournament on July 15. (File Photo)

The Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team doesn’t rebuild, it reloads.

The Breakers lost eight NCAA-bound seniors off last year’s squad, but other girls will step up to fill those roles. As a matter of fact, they already have.

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Laguna Beach won its second straight California State High School Championships tournament on July 15, defeating Mater Dei 10-4 in the title game at Corona del Mar High.

Newport Harbor advanced to the final of the boys’ tournament before falling to Harvard-Westlake, 11-8.

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The Breakers girls were coached for much of the weekend by assistant coach and alumna Cara Borkovec, as head coach Ethan Damato had coaching duties with the U.S. youth national team. Damato coached Laguna for the final game, which saw the Breakers get three goals from Morgan Van Alphen and two each from Molly Renner and Rachael Carver.

Jessie Rose, Imani Clemens and Emma Singer also scored for Laguna Beach, while Quinn Winter made 10 saves.

“We were still able to come together, despite Ethan not being there,” incoming senior Claire Kelly said. “I felt like the entire tournament, we were able to do full [substitutions] — six in and six out. It was nice to have all of the freshman be able to play and win pretty easily.”

Kelly scored three goals in the semifinal, an 8-4 victory over Orange Lutheran. Renner and Rose each scored twice.

Winter will be the Breakers’ starting goalkeeper this year, taking over for Stanford-bound Thea Walsh, the Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year.

“Quinn’s made it really easy,” said Kelly, who projects to play some set defense this season. “Having Thea behind us, it makes it so much easier to play, and I felt like Quinn stepped up right into her role. I don’t feel like I see a difference in our defense from last year.”

Incoming seniors Courtney Heydorff and Nicca Falah led Huntington Beach High to a 6-5 victory over Corona del Mar in the fifth-place game.

Laguna Beach’s “B” team also placed 19th in the tournament. That team was made up mostly of eighth graders and incoming freshmen.

The girls continue action this week. Kelly will be playing with fellow incoming seniors Evie Laptin, Bryn Giofreddi and Cici Stewart on the SET 18-and-under “Grey” team at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics this week. Session Two started Thursday in the Bay Area.

Winter is the goalie for the SET 16U team, which also includes Grace Houlahan, Renner, Struss and Carver. That team won the U.S. Club Championships and qualified first at Junior Olympics qualifying.

The Breakers know that when they come together again, they will have high hopes.

“Every year, we lose players that are great, so I think us winning this tournament is a great way to show that we still have a lot of skill on our team,” Winter said.

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