When the S&R; Junior Olympics girls’ water polo tournament got underway on Aug. 2, the Laguna Beach 14-and-Under girls’ team figured to be one of the teams to beat in the four-day event that wrapped up Sunday in San Jose.
Laguna was, indeed, a marked team and withstood the best shot offered by several opponents to earn a runner-up finish to Santa Barbara in the division.
En route to a silver medal finish, Laguna opened the tournament with a trio of lopsided wins on its way to a tournament record of 6-2.
“I think that winning the Speedo Cup back in November put us as a target out there,” Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. “Every team we faced gave us their best.
“I’m very proud of the girls and what they accomplished. Since the Speedo Cup, the only team that they’ve lost to is Santa Barbara. They’ve been our nemesis.”
A year ago, Laguna finished seventh in the tournament.
Laguna 17, Diablo B 2
Laguna coasted to a tournament-opening win against the Diablo “B” team.
Jessie Holechek led the scoring with five goals followed by Candyce Schroeder with four. Melena Masson and Kelsey Thorton each scored three goals and Riley Duncan, Yoshi Andersen and Kaitlyn Waidley each chipped in one.
Laguna 17, Foothill 5
The second tournament outing proved to be much of the same for Laguna as it swamped Foothill.
Candyce Schroeder took scoring honors with five goals. Yoshi Andersen scored three times, Jessica Shusko and Jessie Holechek each twice and Melena Masson, Riley Duncan, Bridgette Alvarez, Lida De Groote and Kelsey Thorton also scored.
Laguna 15, Davis 3
On Friday, Jessie Holechek netted four goals and Yoshi Andersen and Candyce Schroeder each scored three, as Laguna polished off Davis.
Kelsey Thorton scored twice, and Jessica Shusko, Kaitlyn Waidley and Bridgette Alvarez once each.
Laguna 4, Los Alamitos 3
Jessie Holechek drew a kick out with 1:17 to play and Candyce Schroeder converted on extra-player advantage by scoring the game-winning goal six seconds later, as Laguna shaded Los Alamitos Friday afternoon.
Following a scoreless opening quarter, Jessie Holechek scored off a feed from Jessica Shusko in the second quarter and Laguna rode that score to a 1-0 halftime advantage. In the third quarter, Los Alamitos cracked the scoreboard to earn a tie and had a chance to go up on an extra-player advantage, but goalie Edy Manetta came up big defensively to hold Los Alamitos at bay.
Shusko went on to score on a step-out shot from hole to put Laguna back on top, 2-1, but Los Alamitos scored another tying goal on a five-meter shot in the waning seconds of the quarter.
Los Alamitos went on to take its only lead, 3-2, early in the final quarter but Candyce Schroeder drew a kick out that led to Riley Duncan and Melena Masson combining on a set play for the equalizing goal which tied the score, 3-3, with two minutes to play.
Manetta found Holechek on a quick counter and Holechek drew a kick out with 1:17 left, leading to Schroeder’s go-ahead goal.
The win set up a showdown with Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara 6, Laguna 3
The division’s top two teams, both undefeated in the tournament, met in a semifinal match before a large crowd at De Anza College.
Edy Manetta made a defensive statement for Laguna early by blocking a shot by Santa Barbara’s top player, Kiley Neushul, and then forced her to shoot wide on their next possession. Offensively, Kelsey Thorton gave Laguna some punch by scoring on a lob into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Laguna missed out on a chance to narrow its deficit early in the second half when it failed to connect on an early tip-in and paid the price after Neushul scored on an quick backhander to up the lead to 5-2. Moments later, Santa Barbara drew a kick out and converted for a 6-2 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Laguna 9, Commerce 7
Needing a victory over Commerce in order to advance to the medal round, Laguna got just that as it held on for a tight win.
Commerce took a 1-0 lead but a goal by Jessie Holechek tied the score. Commerce scored again before the quarter was over, scoring after a Laguna kick out, for a 2-1 lead again money to tie at 1-1. Early in the second quarter, Commerce drew another kick out and scored to increase its lead to 3-1.
But back battled Laguna. First Laguna forced a kick out following Commerce’s third goal and Jessica Shusko took the scoring honors on a tip-in with the extra attacker. She then found Melena Masson who scored from out top and tied the score at 3-3. Two minutes later, Masson drew a kick out and Holechek converted to put Laguna on top, 4-3.
Commerce, however, scored on a lob late in the quarter to send the teams into the half knotted at 4-4.
Laguna Beach 5, Chino Hills 3
Laguna led early, was tied at 3-3 and then scored the final two goals of the match to move on to the championship final.
A goal by Jessie Holechek off a feed from Jessica Shusko three minutes into the action gave Laguna a 1-0 lead and it became 2-0 when Schroeder drew a kick out and went on to score from out front.
Chino Hills netted its first goal at the outset of the second quarter but Laguna responded with a Melena Masson scored off Shusko’s second assist of the half for a 3-1 lead. Edy Manetta made five saves in the first half, as Laguna protected that 3-1 lead at the break.
Following a scoreless third quarter, only 17 seconds elapsed into the fourth quarter when Chino Hills scored its second goal to pull to within 3-2 and a few minutes later, tied the score when it drew a kick out and converted that player advantage situation.
Santa Barbara 7, Laguna 1
Santa Barbara, which easily defeated Los Alamitos in the other semifinal, overcame a strong Laguna defense in the first quarter to pull away to the victory and gold medal that went with it.
Edy Manetta had a terrific opening quarter with three saves and a steal. Laguna had a chance to grab an early lead, but couldn’t take advantage of a kick out.
Early in the second quarter, Santa Barbara drew a kick out and scored almost immediately. Santa Barbara struck three more times in the final two minutes of the half, scoring on a lob shot and again after drawing a five-meter call to open up Santa Barbara scored on a pair of lob shots and after drawing a five-meter call, to take a 4-0 lead into the half.
The second half mirrored the first as Santa Barbara scored following a pair of kick outs to increase the lead to 6-0. Laguna finally cracked the scoreboard with 44 seconds to play when Schroeder drew a kick out that led to a goal by Jessie Holechek.
“While there is no joy in losing, there is no shame in being the second-best team in the country,” Damato said. “Our girls battled the whole tourney and played some quality polo. I’m very proud of this group and see big things ahead for many of them.”