IRVINE — All year long, the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team was the best team in CIF Southern Section Division II.
The Breakers made sure nothing changed in their biggest game of the year.
Annika Dries passed to Melena Masson for a pair of goals, then scored a pair herself.
Seniors and freshmen alike, everyone joined in on the fun as the Breakers topped Montebello, 9-5, at Irvine High on Saturday afternoon to clinch the Division II title.
“We just had that [confidence] throughout the whole season,” said Dries, who also drew several exclusions at two meters to help Laguna come out on top. “We weren’t going to let anyone beat us. We knew we’re the best team in Division II, and we just had to execute. Today, a couple of shaky quarters, but we knew that if we played the whole game, the whole 28 minutes, that we were going to come through with a win. That was just our confidence throughout the season.”
It’s Laguna Beach’s second CIF championship for girls’ water polo, and first since 2001. But it was indeed a shaky start for the Breakers (28-4), who move on to the CIF Southern Section Masters Tournament beginning today.
Montebello (19-11) pressed Laguna Beach from the beginning, something the Oilers didn’t do in their previous three meetings, all won by Laguna. And it was Montebello that took a 2-1 lead after a quarter on a pair of goals by freshman Niki DeLeon.
“We anticipated that they were going to press,” Breakers Coach Ethan Damato said. “I think that’s when they’re at their best, when they’re pressing. But the girls were a little bit slow and a little bit nervous in that first quarter. [It was] the combination of them coming out with that press and us kind of being a little bit shellshocked.”
But then Laguna Beach started adjusting. The Breakers took a 3-2 advantage with 1:57 left in the half on sophomore Jessie Holechek’s goal, then a 4-3 lead when senior Natasha Schulman scored from five meters out.
Montebello scored its second penalty shot of the half to pull even, but then Holechek scored with a second left to stake Laguna Beach to a 5-4 halftime lead.
“That was huge,” Damato said. “That goal right before half really gave us some life going into that third quarter.”
And the Breakers took full advantage. Masson scored her first six-on-five goal, then again with 4:14 left in the quarter — on another Dries assist — to widen the lead to 7-4.
“That’s what makes [Dries] the player in our division, and probably in CIF,” Montebello Coach David Keys said. “If she doesn’t score, she makes everyone around her better, and she did that today. When we were trying to double-team her, she was able to kick it out to her open teammates and get goals for her teammates.”
Montebello answered, but then Dries beat a double-team to score with 1:17 left in the quarter to give the Breakers an 8-5 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Schulman, who had two steals, and sophomore Jessica Shusko helped lead a stout defensive effort that gave up just one goal in the second half.
“I knew this year that we could do it from the beginning,” Schulman said. “My team is so great. We worked hard and no one took anything for granted. No one tried to be the diva. We all just worked together because we wanted this. This feeling of winning [CIF] is so amazing.
“We just wanted to win. We were making sure that we had our defense under control so we could go play offense. Being a defender, I’m usually in the set, so I can see everything that’s going on. Everyone helped everyone, and no one was left to fend for themselves against a girl. That makes it really hard to score.”
Freshman Yoshi Andersen and junior Lexie Ross each scored a goal, while senior Taylor Dodson had a pair of assists and a steal.
Sophomore goalie Etianne Manetta made five saves for Laguna Beach.
“It’s amazing,” Dodson said. “I can’t stop smiling. It feels great because we’ve worked so hard, especially all the seniors for four years. Every year we’ve come so close, and it’s really great to know that after all this time and effort we put it in, we finally won.
“We finally achieved our main goal. It’s always good when you can play up to your potential. It’s really exciting.”
MATT SZABO may be reached at (714) 966-4614 or at email@example.com.