For the first time, Laguna Beach Age Group Water Polo will be sending a team to the Speedo Cup Tournament.
The girls' 14-and-Under team became the program's first squad to accomplish the feat when it won four straight games last weekend at the Speedo Cup Qualifying Tournament of the Southern Pacific Zone — the largest such zone in the nation.
Twelve zone champions from throughout the nation will meet in Columbia, Mo., in mid-November to compete in the Speedo Cup.
The Speedo Cup is the official National Age Group Championship sanctioned by United States Water Polo Inc. and is a tournament for players in eighth-grade or lower.
But qualifying for the national tournament didn't come without some heavy drama, as Laguna benefited from a reversal of fortune.
Laguna won the tournament by surviving a shootout against Los Alamitos that was held only after a referee's decision was reversed, which allowed the shootout.
Laguna and Los Alamitos played to a 2-2 tie after the first half of play, Laguna getting a goal from Jessica Shusko off a pass from Melena Masson and another from Jessie Holechek after Shusko created a five-meter opportunity.
Early in the third quarter, Candyce Schroeder converted a lob feed from Kelsey Thorton for a third goal as Laguna again reclaimed the lead, 3-1. Once again, however, Los Alamitos wouldn't let the locals pull away and the teams headed into the final quarter knotted at 3-3.
Masson came up with a key save with 1:30 left in regulation when she swept the ball away from the mouth of the Laguna goal after keeper Edy Manetta had turned away a Los Alamitos shot from close range. Los Alamitos held the final possession of the game with 12 seconds left and got off a shot attempt that failed. But in the ensuing scrum in front of the goal, Manetta held possession of the ball with a second to play after Los Alamitos had been whistled for a foul.
With the opposing players still invading her free space, Manetta raised the ball behind her head for her free pass. On of the game referees awarded Los Alamitos a goal on the play, saying that the ball had crossed the Laguna goal line during Manetta's throwing motion.
With Los Alamitos seemingly in possession of a 4-3 victory, game coaches, referees and the tournament director got into a discussion about the final to the game. After a near-30 minute discussion and getting clarification from a ranking official in USA Water Polo, the call was reversed, the Los Alamitos goal wiped off the scoreboard and the teams headed for a shootout.
A team can't score a "dead time" goal," Laguna Coach Chad Beeler said.
"That's the first time I've been involved in such a discussion like that, and the firs time that a call had been awarded in my favor," said Beeler, who was going to protest the match had the original call stood. "Everybody's excited to be going to the Speedo Cup, but I'm bummed to win the way we did.
"Actually, the Los Alamitos coach, Bahram Hojreh is a real stand-up guy. He was one of the ones who encouraged me to protest the game. I ended up writing a letter to USA Water Polo afterward, which said that Los Alamitos deserved to go to the Speedo Cup as much as we do."
In the shootout, Laguna failed on its first shot and Los Alamitos connected on its initial attempt. Masson then hit her shot before Manetta came up with a textbook block against Los Alamitos' top shooter. With the shootout even, Laguna went into the lead for good when Shusko sent her shot into the net. Manetta came up with another huge stop and a successful shot by Thorton gave Laguna a two-goal cushion. After Los Alamitos had scored on its next attempt, Schroeder secured the improbable win when she sent a shot into the back of the net.
Manetta stopped the final shot attempt by Los Alamitos, for good measure.
In other tournament action:
Laguna 7, Corona del Mar 2
Two goals by Jessica Shusko and one by Kelsey Thorton allowed Laguna to take a 3-2 halftime lead, then the locals came up by scoring four goals and the defense getting a shut- out in the second half of play.
Masson, Thorton, Yoshi Andersen and Jessica Holechek scored goals in the second half. Manetta had a pair of assists and Andersen one.
Laguna 5, Newport Beach 0
Jessica Holechek scored two goals and Melena Masson, Yoshi Andersen, Kelsey Thorton one each as Laguna continued its strong defensive play in a shutout victory.
Laguna 7, Socal 1
The locals gave a near-perfect performance in their tournament opener against Socal.
Laguna never trailed after Candyce Shroeder scored on a back-handed shot from holeset on Laguna's first possession. Schroeder then assisted Yoshi Andersen's goal moments later for a 2-0 lead. In the second quarter, a steal by Melena Masson led to a long-shot goal by Jessica Shusko and Edy Manetta blocked a shot, as Laguna staked to a 3-0 halftime lead.
A pair of passes from Jessie Holechek in the third quarter led to goals by Shusko and Riley Duncan and Masson scored later in the quarter as Laguna built a 6-1 lead. Schroeder finished the scoring with a goal off a Holechek feed in the fourth quarter.