The Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo made one of their major goals of the 2008-09 season come to fruition Wednesday at the William J. Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine.
The Breakers now have a bigger prize in mind.
Laguna secured a spot in Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division II championship game by overpowering South Coast League champion San Clemente, 19-8. The win, their second of the year against the Tritons — they routed their rivals from down south, 15-3, on Dec. 23 — puts the Breakers up against Montebello in Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. final at the Woollett Center.
It will be a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, and the fourth time that the Breakers (27-4) and Oilers (20-10) have met this year.
Laguna is 3-0 in the previous meetings.
Montebello moved on by taking down No. 3 Palos Verdes, 9-3, in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
“We’re excited to be going back to the finals,” Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. “I thought the girls played with a ton of emotion against San Clemente and they weren’t about to overlook them. We have three great senior leaders in Taylor (Dodson), Annika (Dries) and Natasha (Schulman) and they haven’t overlooked any team this season.”
“I also give a lot of credit to San Clemente. They played with a lot of heart and passion and scored some early goals on us, which is usually uncharacteristic of our defense.”
It was Dries who scored back-to-back goals within the first minute of Wednesday’s contest to give Laguna a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. San Clemente, though, kept things close and pulled to within 4-3 with 2:40 left in the first quarter when Carly Ternasky scored on a man-advantage situation that favored the Tritons.
From there out though, it was all Laguna. The Breakers scored the next six goals to break open the game.
Dries netted her third goal before Dodson came up with a steal and drove the length of the pool to power in her first goal to make it 6-3. Junior Lexie Ross scored off a Dries’ assist just before the end of the quarter to push Laguna into a 7-3 lead.
Dries opened the second quarter with an impressive goal, skipping a shot into the cage while her head was under water and the shot clock about to expire. She got her fifth goal by scoring off a Melena Masson feed on a play set up by a steal by Ross. Masson capped the 6-0 run when the freshman came up with a steal and scored at the other end to build the lead to 10-3.
Dries was dominant, finishing with eight goals. She only had two goals during the teams’ first meeting Dec. 23.
Laguna led 11-5 at the half and was up, 14-6, heading into the fourth quarter. In the final seven minutes, sophomore Jessie Holechek posted three goals and Dries recorded her eighth and final goal. She, along with Dodson, Schulman and Ross, exited the pool with 4:01 remaining with Laguna well in command.
Also in the final quarter, goalie Sarah Zuziak made a terrific save. A driving Ternasky was about to power in an uncontested goal, but Zuziak rose to the occasion to block a point-blank shot off her right forearm. The ball ricocheted up pool and Laguna gained possession.
The Breakers have their second and final day of preparation for Montebello today, a two-day period where Damato vowed his squad would “prepare their butts off” to be ready for another go with the Oilers.
“They know us well, and we know them well, so there won’t be any surprises Saturday,” Damato said. “We have a very focused group that takes pride in preparing for our game plan. The girls will be ready for Saturday.”
Dodson, who was a freshman when Laguna last reached a division final, agreed.
“We have worked really hard to reach this goal,” said the Cal-bound Dodson.
“It’s amazing to know that those early-morning practices and hard swim sets have paid off.
“It has been a big goal of ours to make it to the championship game, but our season isn’t complete yet. We have one more goal to achieve.”
Dries, who will attend Stanford next year, and Schulman, who next year takes her game to UCLA, also were part of the Laguna team that reached the 2007 final but lost, 11-10, to Agoura.
“Since my freshman year, I’ve known that defense wins championships,” Dries said. “Offensively, we are very well-balanced and can score. But going into Saturday’s final, it’s all about the defense. That’s the key.”
Schulman said she will be well-prepared for the title game.
“I remember two years ago that I really didn’t know what was going on, how important playing for a CIF championship was,” she said. “After that game, I knew. I understood how important it is to win a championship, that feeling you get from accomplishing a goal like that.
“To win the championship has been our No. 1 goal all season.”