PALOS VERDES — It was the biggest nonleague game of the year for the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team.
The word “over-prepared” didn’t exist.
“We’ve been preparing and talking about Palos Verdes all year long,” Coach Ethan Damato said. “I have like 10 films on them.”
What did exist, though, on Friday at Palos Verdes High was quite a gap between the Breakers and the host Sea Kings. Second-ranked Laguna served notice that it should be the favorite to defend its CIF Southern Section Division II title after defeating top-ranked Palos Verdes, 10-5.
The Breakers led just 4-3 at halftime, but then put on a third quarter to remember.
“As a team, we work well with momentum,” said junior goalie Etianne Manetta, who made 11 saves, several of them on point-blank shots. “It started picking up, and then we did great.”
Jessie Holechek scored a six-on-five strike from the left side, then fellow junior Jessica Shusko scored a straightaway goal from the perimeter. Sophomore Yoshi Andersen then added a counterattack goal and the Breakers had suddenly opened a 7-3 advantage with 2:30 left in that third quarter.
It was three goals in just over a minute, and Palos Verdes was just about knocked out. After sophomore Melena Masson scored on a lob from the right, the Breakers were up, 8-4, going into the fourth and on their way to the victory.
Palos Verdes Coach Chris Murin begged the Sea Kings (13-5) to play for steals in the fourth quarter.
“Don’t put your hands up!” he yelled. “Take the ball!”
But Laguna (14-5) wouldn’t be stopped on this day.
Shusko guarded Princeton-bound Palos Verdes senior Molly McBee and helped keep her scoreless, and Masson also pitched in big-time defensively. Palos Verdes senior Colleen O’Donnell, headed to USC, scored just once, as did sophomore Monica Vavic, the daughter of USC Coach Jovan Vavic.
“We prepared pretty hard for them all week,” Shusko said. “I thought we could go up on them pretty easily. We watched a lot of film on them and they’re pretty inconsistent. If you get in their heads and get up on them early, they break apart.”
She wasn’t surprised by the Breakers’ offensive explosion in the second half, either, against the team that has been ranked tops in Division II for most of the season.
“Our team has really great chemistry,” Shusko said. “We just feed off each other and when we start going like that, we don’t stop. We just took every advantage we had, up and down the pool.”
Damato didn’t really single out one player. Too many played well for Laguna Beach in the big game, although Holechek, Laguna’s scoring leader, did it again Friday with four goals.
Shusko and Masson scored twice each and Lexie Ross and Andersen added single goals.
“I thought it just took us a couple quarters to maybe get adjusted to what they do on offense, and how physical they are on defense,” he said. “I thought once we adjusted, the girls did an incredible job of sticking with the game plan. We had a lot of players doing little things for us, earning ejections, making passes. That whole third quarter there were huge steals, huge field blocks, good passes, and putting shots away. Everything kind of came together in one big surge there in the third; pretty fun to watch.”
The Breakers finished five-for-eight on the player-advantage, three of those coming in the first half. Palos Verdes was just two-for-six.
Junior Fleur Poiesz scored twice for Palos Verdes.
Since Palos Verdes isn’t in next weekend’s Irvine Southern California Championships, the next time the teams see each other would likely be the Division II title game. Laguna should, based on Friday’s win, be the top-seeded team in the Division II playoffs.
Holechek said it felt nice to bounce back from what the team considered a sub-par effort in an 11-6 loss to Foothill six days prior.
“The Foothill game, we just had a really off game all-around,” she said. “I think that this was the game we needed to prove ourselves.”