Five days after playing for the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship, a “relaxed” and “rested” Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team moved on to play in the inaugural CIF Masters Tournament.
Over a two-day period at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine, the Breakers played some of their best polo of the season. In the end, they ended up playing for the tournament championship on Saturday where they nearly put a halt to Foothill’s 26-game win streak. But Foothill, the Division I champion, came from behind and was able to hold on for an 7-6 victory.
Laguna was seeded sixth in the 16-team tournament that included champions, runners-up and semifinalists from the six Southern Section divisions.
The Breakers also had finished runner-up to Agoura in the Division II final on Feb. 26 at Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach.
Agoura, the No. 4 seed, had been bumped from championship contention at the Masters tournament following a second-round loss to fifth-seed Newport Harbor (Division I).
“Man, if we could have played like this all season...,” Laguna co-Coach Chad Beeler said, his voice trailing off at the prospect of the thought.
“After the CIF final, (co-coach) Ethan (Damato) and I left it up to the girls on how they wanted to approach this tournament. We let them decide. A lot of the girls took some time off from the pool and didn’t practice the three days leading up to the tournament. Our attitude was to take it casually but of course, we’d give it our all once we started playing. The approach worked. The girls played super, super well. They played very calm, unlike in CIF where there was pressure.”
In the Masters final, Laguna (28-8) built a 4-2 lead on top-seeded Foothill (33-1) in the second quarter but the Knights used what Beeler called a “game-changing” timeout in the second quarter called by Coach Dave Mikesell, to put momentum on their side.
The Knights came out of that timeout to score the final three goals to take the lead for good.
“We had them until that timeout by Mikesell,” Beeler said. “He made an adjustment by telling his girls to start shooting up more on the outside, because we were giving that to them. They did. They hit a couple of quick shots and before you know it, the score was tied. Up to that point, we were having a really good game.”
Jessica McKee had two goals and two assists for Laguna. Annika Dries, Taylor Dodson, Erin Reid and Lexi Ross also scored for the Breakers.
Celia Huling recorded nine saves.
It was Foothill’s third win in three meetings with Laguna this year. The Knights won 7-2 over the Breakers in a season-opener on Dec. 5, and won again 11-7 on Feb. 3.
Laguna began the tournament with three impressive victories, including one over longtime rival Corona del Mar in a second-round game.
Laguna 19, Ayala 5
The Breakers opened tournament play Friday with an easy win over the 11th-seeded Bulldogs.
Nine Breakers scored, led by four goals apiece by McKee and Ross. Dries, Reid, Natasha Schulmann and Maddi Duncan all scored twice and Breanna Duplisea, Kacky Brown and Hannah Fait each scored once.
Huling had five saves.
Ayala, champion of the Sierra League, finished runner-up to Whittier in Division III.
“We figured we’d win this one and it was a nice way to open the tournament,” Beeler said.
Corona del Mar 7
Later Friday, the Breakers came up with an outstanding effort to shut down the No. 3-seeded Sea Kings.
Corona del Mar, which had won the Pacific Coast League title and reached the Division I semifinals, had defeated Laguna 6-4 on Feb. 10, the final day of the regular season. This time, Laguna bolted to a 4-1 lead, held a 4-2 lead after the first quarter and took a 9-5 advantage into the fourth quarter.
McKee again led the Laguna scoring with four goals. Dries scored three times, Dodson twice and Schulmann once.
Huling finished with 13 saves.
Beeler said the performance may have been Laguna’s best of the year and that it was the first by a Laguna team since a CIF semifinal playoff win over the Sea Kings in 2001.
“I mean, the girls shut down CdM, and they’re such a strong team,” he said. “Like we had done with the Foothill match, we took a casual approach to this match. We were the underdog in both of those matches and had nothing to lose.”
Laguna 9, Santa Margarita 3
The Breakers defense shut out the No. 7-seeded Eagles over the second and third quarters and their offense scored five goals during that stretch to win going away in a semifinal match.
Duplisea and Schulmann each scored twice and McKee, Reid and Ross each scored once. Huling stopped seven shots on goal.
Trinity League champion Santa Margarita, which reached the second round of the Division I playoffs, also lost, 8-5 to Laguna back on Jan. 9.
Before the Masters tournament had begun, Beeler said he was opposed to the event. Following the completion of two days of play, his outlook changed.
“I thought it was a bad idea to begin with but we enjoyed it, more than I thought I would,” he said. “The only thing I would like to see different if this tournament becomes an annual event, is once a team loses, they’re done. They go home. I’d eliminate the consolation side of the tournament.”