The start to the 2014 portion of the 2013-14 school year started with a bang for Laguna Beach High athletics. That beginning, it turned out, was the jump start to a big finish to the athletic year for Laguna teams.
Below are some of the key highlights turned in by Laguna teams and athletes in the second-half of the school year.
January through June
Girls' Water Polo
The Breakers opened their season the same way they ended it: at No. 1.
The program captured its first CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship by taking down a postseason nemesis, Newport Harbor in the division final. Laguna took the crown by defeating the seventh-seeded Sailors, 10-7, at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine.
The Breakers cruised to victory throughout most of the season. They rolled through Orange Coast League play en route to another league championship, went 30-1 overall and ended the season on a school-record 21-game winning streak.
The Breakers reached the title game by handling Los Alamitos, 12-5, in the semifinal round.
They won the title in their first Division 1 finals appearance. They went 3-0 during the season against Newport Harbor which had ended the Breakers' season in postseason play the two previous years.
Junior Makenzie Fischer, a member of the USA Water Polo U.S. Women's Senior National Team, scored five goals and had five steals in the Division 1 title match. Fischer would not only be named the MVP of the Orange Coast League, but she took the same honor on the 2014 All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 Girls' Water Polo Team.
In June, Fischer would be named Laguna's Female Athlete of the Year.
"It's hard to put it into words [what winning the title means]," Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. "I think today's (CIF title) just about this group of girls and their accomplishments. It's been an amazing ride, an amazing season. I'm just really proud of the group of girls I have this year.
"Our motto this year has been, 'Do what we do.' The girls have struck to that all year."
A strong finish to the season put the Breakers in the program's record book.
The Breakers turned the corner in its season during Orange Coast League competition and went on to win the league title. They took a No. 10 ranking into the CIF-SS Division 4 playoffs where they won their opener by blanking Ontario Chaffey, 2-0. The win took their unbeaten streak to nine games.
That streak ended in the next round, a close, 1-0 home loss to fourth-ranked Phelan Serrano.
The Breakers turned in a 13-6-4 campaign, the 13 wins establishing a new program record for victories in a single season. In their final nine games, they allowed only two goals.
Senior Johana Abarca was named MVP of the Orange Coast League.
"The girls had a great season, a great run," Coach Bill Rolfing said. "We stumbled a little bit out of the gate in league, but we won some close games and were able to pick up some confidence.
"We won a league championship and reached the second round of CIF. That is something the girls can be proud of. Things look very bright for our program."
A season that started with a thin roster ended with another trip to the CIF-SS playoffs for the Breakers.
The Breakers posted a 7-2-1 Orange Coast League record, good for second place, and advanced to the Division 5 playoffs as the division's 10th-ranked team. They won their postseason opener by taking down Santa Monica Crossroads on penalty kicks (4-2), but had their playoff run stopped in their next game by seventh-ranked Baldwin Park which took a 4-0 victory.
The Breakers ended their season with a 11-7-4 record.
"For the fourth consecutive year ,the program's league record has improved and all of the team is a huge part of that," Coach Dan Richards said. "Our graduating seniors should all be commended for their hard work and efforts as they have all been a huge part of the program's continual improvement."
Senior Chris Tellez was named Offensive co-MVP and sophomore goalie Dante Amadeo Defensive MVP, on the 2014 Orange Coast League Boys' Soccer Team.
A slow start didn't prevent the Breakers from turning in a fine season, one that took them to the second-round of the CIF-SS playoffs.
The Breakers placed second in the Orange Coast League which automatically qualified them for the Division 4A playoffs. The division's 13th-seeded team won its playoff opener,66-59, over Los Angeles Archer, then took fourth-seeded Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart to the wire before succumbing, 49-45.
The win over Archer marked the first time in seven seasons that the Laguna girls' basketball program had won a CIF-SS playoff game. The win also tied the program single-season record for wins (19).
Two Breakers set individual school records: Jackie Cenan set a single-season scoring record (589 points), and Alexandra Lewis broke the single-season record for three-point shots made (53).
The Breakers finished the year 19-9.
"Considering the rocky start we had to our season, going 0-3 out of the gate, navigating our way through some off-court distractions, we did quite well," Coach Mark Lewis said. "This season, we tied our win total at 19, improved our standing in league by one, from third place to second, improved our depth in CIF, from first round to second round,"
Mark Lewis was named the 2014 Orange County Girls' Coach of the Year by the Orange Coast Optimist Club during its annual banquet for the Orange County North-South 12th-Grade All-Star Basketball Games.
No Orange Coast League team has been able to break the hold Laguna has had on the league title, and the 2013-14 Breakers held tight to that grip by winning the 2014 championship.
The Breakers went undefeated through the OCL schedule and went into the CIF-SS Division 4AA playoffs with the division's No. 6-seed. They started postseason play with a 58-42 victory over Rosemead Don Bosco Tech, then won playoff game No. 2 by overtaking 11th-seeded Whittier Christian, 67-55. The two wins put the Breakers in the division quarterfinals.
There, they had their bid for a semifinal berth come to an end in San Luis Obispo where third-seeded Royal broke away from a one-point lead at the outset of the fourth quarter, to a 59-52 victory.
The Breakers finished the year 23-6.
The program has won all eight of the OCL titles since the league's inception.
Josh Adams, Noah Blanton, Alec Wulff, Bryan Ludloff, Matt Jones, Garrett Wong and Max Brown, belong to a senior class that helped create back-to-back 20-win seasons and 45 victories (45-13).
Blanton was named MVP of the Orange Coast League. He was also named to the South team roster for the 49th edition of the Orange County North-South 12th-Grade All-Star Basketball boys' game. He ended his career as Laguna's No. 2 all-time rebounder and made the All-CIF Southern Section boys' Division 4AA First Team.
Blanton would be named the school's Male Athlete of the Year at school's end.
"We've had terrific back-to-back senior classes," Coach Bret Fleming said. "This group put in the time and effort, and I think it paid dividends for the kids. They had a great run."
The title of Orange Coast League champion again was worn by the program after the Breakers didn't drop a league match en route to another banner.
It was an all-Laguna finals at the OCL tournament which preceded the CIF-SS playoffs. At the tournament, Ryan Gee won the singles title by getting past teammate Adrien Azera, and the Laguna team of Alex Duong and Ethan Gee took the doubles title by defeating Tim Nguyen/Sterling Dudley-Bowen.
Ryan Gee, Duong and Ethan Gee, went on to represent Laguna at the CIF Southern Section Boys' Individual Tennis Regionals.
At the individual regionals, Ryan Gee won his opening singles match before being ousted in the second round. Duong/Ethan Gee also won their first doubles match before being eliminated in the second round.
In CIF team postseason play, the Breakers scored a 13-5 first-round Division 4 victory over San Dimas, then was edged, 10-8, in the second round by Garden Grove. The loss completed a 12-8 season.
"We were a young team, and everyone 'grew as a whole,' so I am quite confident that we will only be stronger next year," Coach Don Davis said.
Girls' Sand Volleyball
Laguna fielded its initial club sand volleyball team in 2014 and the Breakers were part of the Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League. Coach Raul Papaleo's team won a share of the South Coast Division league championship, sharing the title with Saddleback Valley Christian.
At the season-ending IBVL South Pacific Pairs Championships at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey, Briana Boyd and Sabrina Stillwell represented Laguna in the tournament. The pair advanced form pool play with two victories and won its next match to advance to the quarterfinals. Boyd and Stillwell then were eliminated from title contention by the defending tournament champions, Skylar Caputo and Lan Nguyen of Mira Costa, who went on to repeat as champions.
Softball: A season that started out unsettled ended in victory for the Breakers.
A coaching change during the nonleague portion of the season saw Nicole LeMotte take over as head coach of the Breakers. They ended up winning six games, their final win a 10-4 Orange Coast League victory at Costa Mesa on the final day of the regular season.
The Breakers went 6-19 overall.
"We had a rough preseason but came back strong to end it," LeMotte said. "Now, we just work hard for next season."
Three Breakers, John Grayden, Tyler Metez and Max Brown, qualified for the Orange Coast League postseason tournament. Grayden shot his way to a second-place league finish with a two-day total of 157 at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach. Metez (162) placed seventh and Brown (164) finished 10th.
Grayden earned a spot in the CIF Southern Section Individual Tournament at Mission Hills Golf Course in Palm Desert. Grayden qualified for the tournament by tying for seventh-place in the opening round of the tournament at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach.
As a team, Laguna finished the year with an overall record of 11-5, and went 4-6 in the OCL.
"Our guys played great and finished the year strong," Coach Scott Finn said. "I am very proud of them."
Track and Field
The Breakers' boys' and girls' varsity teams won Orange Coast League titles at the league finals meet in early-May.
First-place league finishes for the girls' team: 1,600-meter run (Pearl Shoemaker); 400-meter run (Coco Putnam); 800-meter run (Janie Crawford); 300-meter hurdles (Coco Putnam); 3,200-meter run (Brenna Merchant); 4x400-meter relay (Crawford, Putnam, Natalie Kimball, Brielle Budroe); Triple jump (Paige Vitolo); Shot put (Jackie Cenan).
First-place league finishes for the boys' team: 110-meter hurdles (Charles Warner); 400-meter run (Nathan Lancaster); Long jump (Mike Santana); High jump: (Kailar Pike).
Laguna athletes went on to turn in strong performances at the CIF Southern Section Track and Field Championships (Division 4) at Cerritos College two weeks later. The Laguna girls' finished in sixth place, and the boys' team in 17th, in the division standings.
In the girls' competition, Laguna placed two runners among the top five in the 800-meter run, junior Janie Crawford (2 minutes, 16.84 seconds) in second-place and senior Brielle Budroe was fifth (2:18.65). In the 300-meter hurdles, sophomore Coco Putnam was fourth (45.02). Junior Brenna Merchant (11:34.86) was seventh in the 3,200-meter run, sophomore Jackie Cenan (35-feet, 2 inches) was sixth in the shot put, and Laguna's 4x400-meter relay team of Crawford, Putnam, Kimball and Budroe, finished fifth (4:01.96).
In the boys' competition, Laguna seniors Nathan Lancaster and Kailar Pike both took third place in their respective events: Lancaster ran a 49.46 in the 400-meter dash, while Pike cleared 6-3 in the high jump.
After going undefeated during the Orange Coast League regular-season meet season — the Breakers established 14 new OCL times at the league finals meet in early-May, the boys' and girls' teams went on to take runner-up finishes to the Division 3 team titles at the CIF-SS Swimming and Diving Championships at the Riverside Aquatics Complex at Riverside Community College.
The Laguna boys were edged in points by Riverside JW North for the title, 271-255.50. The Laguna girls were second (188 points) to Crean Lutheran (409).
The Breakers' Erik Juliusson won two individual CIF event titles, winning the boys' 200-yard individual medley and 100 backstroke. Juliusson also was part of two Laguna teams that claimed CIF relay titles in the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay with Cameron Karkosa, Max Morgan and Cade Baldridge.
Event finishes for Laguna Beach relay teams and athletes at CIF finals:
Boys: 200 Medley Relay: Champion: Laguna Beach (Erik Juliusson, Cameron Karkosa, Max Morgan, Cade Baldridge), 1:36.30; 200 Free: 13. Benjamin Greenwood; 200 IM: Champion: Erik Juliusson. 10. Max Morgan (consolation title); 50 Free: 12. Cade Baldridge; 17. Nolan Del Toro; 100 Free: 5. Cameron Karkosa, 8. Max Morgan, 9. Cade Baldridge, 16. Trent Sadler; 500 Free: 11. Benjamin Greenwood; 200 Free Relay: 7. Laguna Beach (Nolan Del Toro, Jack Dodson, Greyson Benson, Trent Sadler); 100 Backstroke: Champion: Erik Juliusson; 100 Breaststroke: 2. Cameron Karkosa; 400 Free Relay: Champion: Laguna Beach (Max Morgan, Cade Baldridge, Cameron Karkosa, Erik Juliusson).
Girls: 200 Medley Relay: 9. Laguna Beach (Olivia Vera, Jenna Knott, Faith Hale, Aria Fischer); 200 Free: 10. Aria Fischer (consolation championship); 50 Free: 2. Cara Borkovec; 100 Butterfly: 5. Lila Vera; 100 Free: 2. Cara Borkovec; 500 Free: 10. Aria Fischer, (consolation championship); 200 Free Relay: 2. Laguna Beach (Lila Vera, Bella Baldridge, Abby Cohn, Cara Borkovec); 100 Backstroke: 10. Lila Vera (consolation championship); 100 Breaststroke: 15. Abby Cohn; 400 Free Relay: 2. Laguna Beach (Lila Vera, Aria Fischer, Bella Baldridge, Cara Borkovec).
One for the record books. That's the type of season the Breakers turned in this spring.
They went through nonleague play with only two losses, marched, for a second-straight year, through the Orange Coast League schedule without a loss, and were red-hot with a No. 7 ranking heading into the CIF-SS Division 4 playoffs. The Breakers won their first three playoff games, including a 5-3 quarterfinal round victory at No. 2-seeded Sonora, to reach the semifinal round for the first time since 1957.
Only a 4-3, nine-inning loss at Torrance, the eventual Division 4 champion, prevented the Breakers from playing for their first section title in baseball on the final day of the season.
The Breakers won 27 of 30 games, the victories tying the school's single-season win mark. They won 15 consecutive games before their season-ending loss in the playoff semifinals.
During the 2014 season, the Breakers finished at or near the top in several team categories for a single-season: first in plate appearances (1,086), at-bats (911), runs scored (288), batting average (.387), slugging percentage (.546), hits (353), doubles (92), total bases (498), on-base percentage (.470), and stolen bases (107); second in runs batted in (224), base on balls (118) and batters hit by pitch (38); tied for third in triples (seven), and tied for fourth in home runs (13).
Senior Richie Nunis was named MVP and senior pitcher Grant Wilhelm, who won a school single-season record 13 games (13-1), was named Pitcher of the Year for the 2014 Orange Coast League Baseball Team.
Wilhelm and senior Preston GrandPre made First Team, and Nunis Second Team, on the 2014 All-CIF Southern Section Division 4 Baseball Team which was announced this week.
"A school record-tying 27-3 record, a league title, and a semifinal CIF playoff game, only tells part of this team's story," Coach Mike Bair said. "They bonded with each other, laughed, fought like brothers at times, competed and over time created this attitude of loving to win and hating to lose.
"They played strong under pressure and were fearless at all times. They fought for one another. I could not be more proud of this team and what they accomplished, especially our five seniors who have left a major impact on this program."
The prep athletic year for Laguna Beach High ended with another championship, this one coming from the Breakers on the volleyball court.
Under first-year Head Coach Darren Utterback, the Breakers successfully defended their Orange Coast League title and didn't drop a league match along the way. They took a No. 2-seeding into the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs, won their first three matches and took a spot in the division's championship game. They ended up with a runner-up finish following a three-set loss to Esperanza at Cerritos College.
One week later on the same court, the Breakers played in the CIF Southern California Regionals Division III title match, and, as the tournament's top-seed, defeated CIF-SS Division 5 champion and third-seeded Saddleback Valley Christian in four sets to claim the championship.
It was the fourth regional championship for the Laguna program which previously won titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
"It's nice," Utterback said moments after winning the regional championship. "I'm proud of our guys and what they did tonight."
The Breakers posted an overall record of 27-6. In OCL play, they have now won 146 consecutive league sets, dating to the 2009 season.
This week, a trio of seniors, outside hitter Jack Wyett, middle blocker Noah Blanton, and setter JP Wollam, were named to the All-CIF Southern Section Division 2 Boys' Volleyball Team.
Wyett also had been named MVP in the Orange Coast League.