The way the school year began for Laguna Beach High athletics and the way it ended were one and the same: on fire.
Sporting events came to a near halt in October, resumed with full force in November and went on — as usual — the latter-half of the school year.
Below is a listing of key highlights that were reported to the Coastline Pilot during the past year.
The big story in the fall wasn’t a result of what took place in athletics.
Rather, it had to do with Mother Nature.
Fallout from the fires and windy conditions that ravaged Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles counties in mid-October affected outdoor athletic practices and events for more than a week. Some games were postponed or rescheduled while others were canceled altogether.
Once play did resume, several Laguna teams went on to win Orange Coast League championships and earn CIF playoff berths.
The girls’ volleyball team went undefeated in Orange Coast League play — the Breakers have won all 15 league matches since the league’s inception in 2006 — to win another league crown. But bigger things awaited the Breakers a few weeks later.
In late November, Laguna won the CIF Southern Section Division II-AA title for a second consecutive year, sweeping Bishop Montgomery of Torrance in the final.
By defeating the Knights, the Breakers were able to win back-to-back section titles for the first time in school history.
“We believed that we could win the title again but no, I didn’t think we’d sweep everybody,” said senior outside hitter Dana Hutchinson, who had 16 kills and 17 digs in the final. “It’s really cool. This is such a great group of girls, and it’s really special to win this together.”
In fact, Laguna swept its way through the postseason — dominating six opponents — en route to reaching the CIF Southern California Regional final of the CIF State Division III playoffs. But the Breakers ended up one victory shy of the state Division III title match for a second straight year after being swept by host Harvard-Westlake.
Laguna had swept nine opponents overall before meeting CIF-SS Division I-A winner Harvard-Westlake in the regional final.
“Our girls did a fantastic job all year and they were really strong in the playoffs,” Breakers Coach Lance Stewart said.
The boys’ water polo team cruised to the league title and reached the quarterfinal round of the Division II playoffs. Senior Pierre Masson went on to be named co-Most Valuable Player of the league. Nathan McConnell, goalie Warren Murrel, Victor Alcone and Max Munoz were named first team and Brett Thompson, David Brunner, Sean Dorse and Robert Chew were named second team.
The Breakers went 20-7 overall.
“I think this team did a better job this year than anybody thought they would,” Laguna co-head coach Chad Beeler said. “The kids really stepped it up this season.”
In cross-country, the boys’ and girls’ programs again turned in outstanding campaigns.
Both squads advanced to the CIF State Championships for a fifth consecutive year. In the Division IV race at Woodward Park in Fresno, the girls’ placed fourth and just missed reaching the podium (top three), while the boys were in sixth place.
Both teams qualified for state after attaining strong placements at the CIF-SS Division IV finals at Mount San Antonio College. The girls finished fourth in their division and the boys’ placed sixth.
Both teams also ran to league championships.
“The girls ran very well,” girls’ Coach Earl Towner said. “It’s nice to finish the season with a fourth-place finish in CIF and fourth place at state."
“It was strange not being on the podium this year, but I know that our performance was a solid one and that we will return there again very soon,” boys’ Coach Dave Brobeck said. “We’re very proud of our sustained tradition of success.”
Orange Coast League girls’ water polo champion Laguna reached the semifinal round of the Division II playoffs where, in a tight battle that went down to the final seconds, top-ranked Dos Pueblos rallied in the second half to pull out a 9-8 victory.
“It’s one of those things where you are disappointed in losing but feel really good about how you played,” Laguna junior hole-set Annika Dries said. “I thought we played really well as a team. We’ve been playing so much more together since we last played Dos Pueblos, and it showed.”
In boys’ basketball, Laguna posted the fourth-best record (21-7) in the program’s 74-year history. The Breakers won their second straight Orange Coast League title (the junior varsity and freshman teams also won league titles) and advanced to the second round of the CIF-SS Division III-A playoffs. Senior point guard Marcus Hairston was named team MVP.
Hairston also was named MVP of the Orange Coast League and then was tabbed as a second-team selection on the All-Division boys’ basketball teams (Division IIIA, formerly All-CIF). He averaged 10.6 points per game and was among the top 10 players in the county with a 5.2 assists per game average. “He was a well-rounded player who played terrific defense for us,” Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said.
One year after going winless, the girls’ basketball program rose to a No. 11 ranking in Division IV-AA under first-year head coach Jon Hendrickson, finished second in the Orange Coast League, won the program’s first playoff game since 2005 and reached the second round of the playoffs.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort the girls gave,” Hendrickson said. “It’s been an awesome season both on and off the court for me.”
Laguna boys’ golfer Bret McGaughey won the Orange Coast League individual title for the second year in a row. He and teammate Duane Hewlett advanced to the CIF-SS Individual Regional.
Laguna also won the Orange Coast League boys’ tennis team title. The Breakers went on to make a strong statement at the league’s doubles and singles tournament. Three Laguna doubles teams advanced to the semifinals and two of those teams played for the doubles title. Junior Noah Michelon and senior Ben Biscarrat swept senior teammates Jared Berkson and Graham Unterberger in the doubles final. A third Laguna semifinals team, senior Sean Ochwat and sophomore Mikey Rubel, took third place.
Breakers freshman Jake Michaels played for the singles title but fell in the final to senior Brad Fisher of Estancia.
In swimming, several members from the boys’ and girls’ teams met CIF qualification times and competed at CIF finals. In the Division II finals, junior Andrea Reigel was fourth in the 100-yard backstroke and sixth in the 200-yard individual medley; junior Annika Dries was 13th in the 200-yard freestyle and 16th in the 50-yard free; Preston Head placed 10th in the boys’ 100-yard free; Laguna’s 200-yard relay team of juniors Dries, Natasha Schulman, Chelsea Wild and Reigel finished fourth and the girls’ 400-free relay team of Wild, junior Taylor Dodson, Dries and Reigel finished in eighth place.
Laguna clinched a spot in the CIF-SS boys’ volleyball playoffs for the 35th consecutive year by winning another league title. The Breakers advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Division II playoffs, where they were eliminated from title contention. Shawn Merz and Clay Knapp of Laguna Beach were named to the Division II LA84 boys’ volleyball team (formerly known as All-CIF). Merz, a senior outside hitter, was a first-team selection. Knapp, a senior setter, was named to the second team.
Laguna track and field athletes Yann Panassie and Matt Neev reached the CIF-SS Track and Field Championships at Mount San Antonio College in late-May. In the Division IV boys’ 1,600-meter run, Panassie, a senior, finished in fourth place and Neev, a freshman, placed sixth in the event. Neev also finished in eighth place in the boys’ 3,200. Laguna’s boys finished in 22nd place in the division standings.
MIKE SCIACCA covers sports. He can be reached at (949) 494-4321 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.