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SPORTS YEAR IN REVIEW: Not breaking the mold

The end of the year.

A perfect time to reflect on some of the key athletic happenings that took place at Laguna Beach High school since last January. The Breakers accomplished many memorable feats, both team-wise and individually. Below are some of the key highlights that were reported to the Coastline Pilot:

  January-June

The Laguna girls’ water polo team ended the 2007-08 season the same way as it currently stands in the 2008-09 season: as a serious contender for a CIF championship.

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Last February, the Breakers fell in the final second to top-ranked Dos Pueblos, 9-8, in the semifinals of the Division II playoffs. “It’s one of those things where you are disappointed in losing but feel really good about how you played,” then-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.”

Dries and a majority of her teammates are back again this year for another run toward a possible title: the Breakers go into the New Year ranked No. 1 in Division II.

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.

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“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 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 Walnut 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.

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Laguna athletes also excelled in the classroom: CIF Student Athlete of the Year male and female award recipients for Laguna were seniors Charley Bowman and Emily LaRose. During the final week of May, Athletic Director Mike Churchill received a banner declaring that the Laguna football team had been named one of 27 State Academic Awards team champions honored by the State CIF for the school year. The Breakers, who held a collective team grade-point average of 3.51, were recognized as having the highest collective team GPA in football among all California schools. In addition, Laguna’s football team and its girls’ swim team were CIF Southern Section academic team champions, as well, in their respective sports, for schools with a student body enrollment of 1,499 and below.

Churchill said all of Laguna’s varsity sports teams qualified for the minimum 3.0 standard, and the girls’ golf team (second place), coached by Val Quigley, girls’ water polo team (third place), coached by Chad Beeler and Ethan Damato, and boys’ cross country team (third place), coached last fall by Dave Brobeck, earned top-five academic standings in their respective sports in the Southern Section.

“It was unbelievable to read what was on that banner,” Churchill said of the State Academics Award banner. “Just think about how rare this is. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, really. The kids should be extremely proud.”

Two more standout Breakers, Dana Hutchinson and Pierre Masson, were named Laguna’s female and male athletes of the year, respectively.

  September-December

It was a long time coming.

Twenty-one years, to be exact.

The Laguna Beach High football team exorcised a few postseason demons on Nov. 20 at the Santa Ana Bowl where the Breakers defeated the Santa Ana Saints, 39-14, in a first-round game of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs. That playoff victory was the first for the program in postseason play since Nov. 20, 1987, when the then-Artists won at home against Elsinore, 28-21. You have to go back even further than that — 40 years, in fact — to find the last time Laguna won a road playoff game. It was Nov. 22, 1968, a 14-13 win over La Quinta of Westminster at Bolsa Grande High.

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“It’s just a great, great win and I’m so proud of our kids,” Todd said. “It’s a great win for our program.”

Several school records were established in the victory:

 The 39 points were the most scored in a playoff game since a 34-14 victory in 1962 over Santa Clara.

 Quarterback Austin Paxson set a school record with four touchdown passes and the recipient of those four passes, Chris Paul, also set a new record for TD receptions in a game.

 Chris Paul also tied Donelle Darling (2001) for most touchdowns in a game, five, which he totaled after scoring on a fumble recovery midway through the fourth quarter. He also tied Darling for most points scored in a game (30).

In addition, the 25-point margin of victory in a playoff game is surpassed only by a 26-0 victory in 1964 over Bloomington.

Junior Mitch McMullen was named the league’s Lineman of the Year.

Laguna sophomore Taylor Pitz was selected to be on the 2009 PacSun USA Surf Team after competing at the SIMA Surfing America USA Championships at the famed Huntington Beach Pier in September. Pitz competed in the girls’ under-18 and under-16 divisions during the six-day event. She was the only girl to make both finals, taking second in U18 and third in U16. Her selection marks the second year that she has been a USA Surf Team member.

Laguna’s girls’ tennis team won the Orange Coast League championship again. The seventh-ranked reached the Division I quarterfinals where they lost to second-ranked Dana Hills. Laguna ended its year at 16-4

Two-time defending CIF champion Laguna had its drive to a possible third-straight crown in girls’ volleyball halted by top-ranked Dos Pueblos in the semifinals of the Division I-A playoffs. The Orange Coast League champion Breakers, playing up a division for the first time this year, lost in four tight games. Laguna completed the year at 24-9. The semifinal appearance was the 23rd all-time for the program, which has reached at least the semifinal round for a fifth consecutive year. Seniors Alexandra Palmer and Piper Obradovich shared the league’s MVP honor.

“I think we played some pretty darn-good volleyball this year, and I’m so proud of this team and their efforts,” Coach Lance Stewart said. “The girls improved from start to finish and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”

The boys’ water polo team reached one goal this year, but fell two quarters shy of attaining another lofty feat. The fourth-ranked Breakers battled Montebello to the end of a CIF Division III semifinal match but the top-ranked Oilers were able to leave Mt. SAC with a 10-6 victory. The Breakers, who the Orange Coast League title yet again, won 13 of its final 17 games to close out their campaign 19-12. Senior Victor Alcone was named the league MVP.

“In all my years of coaching, and I know this is my first as head coach at Laguna, this was probably the most rewarding year,” said Damato, who added that the Breakers had team goals this year of making it back to the semifinal round and also making it to the title game. No Laguna team has played for a title since the 1997 season, he said. “From day one to the end of the season, this team went from night to day. We had a really, really new group of guys play this year because we lost about 80% of our scoring and several seniors from last year’s team. These guys really gave it their all. They really came together and had a great second half of the season.”

Laguna’s girls’ golf team earned a share of the Orange Coast League title in 2008, one year after winning an outright championship. Individually, junior Grace Komoroczy became the 2008 Golden West League champion and was one of two Breakers — senior Karina Shaw was the other — to earn a berth in the CIF individual regional tournament. Komoroczy went on to be selected as the league’s Most Valuable Golfer. She was one of four Laguna golfers to land on the 12-member all-league team, joining Shaw, Christianne Kinder and Jenni Coury.

The Laguna Beach High boys’ cross-country team just missed making the podium at the 2008 CIF State Cross Country Championships in late-November. The Breakers, competing without key runner Blake Hofmeister, finished in fourth-place in the Division IV race at Woodward Park in Fresno. They missed making the podium (top three teams) by five points. “Our team goal throughout the season was to finish in the top three,” Laguna Coach Dave Brobeck said. “The boys ran well though. To finish as highly as we did is a testament to the character — and talent of the team.”

Laguna, which was runner-up to the Division IV title, was in Fresno competing at the State meet for the sixth consecutive year.

Laguna’s girls’ cross-country team reigned supreme by winning the Orange Coast League championship. Four Breakers set personal records at the league finals’ girls’ race: junior Kativa Strickland, freshman Natasha Strickland, junior Gerry Artman and freshman Marisa Merchant. “We went into league finals more focused,” Laguna girls’ coach Steve Lalim said. “The girls ran a very good race. I’m very proud of them.”



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