PALOS VERDES ESTATES"” 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 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, on Jan. 29.
The Breakers (15-5) led by just one 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.
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."
Holechek, Laguna's scoring leader, did it again against Palos Verdes with four goals. Shusko and Masson scored twice each and Lexie Ross and Andersen added single goals.
"I thought once we adjusted, the girls did an incredible job of sticking with the gameplan," Damato said. "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 topped Riverside Poly in a nonleague game, 11-7, on Tuesday and opened play at the Irvine Southern California Championships on Thursday. The Breakers are seeded second in their eight-team pool, behind Los Alamitos.
Laguna's hopes of repeating as Orange Coast League champions took a shot Jan. 29 as they fell at Calvary Chapel, 49-47. Sophomore Tyler Masukawa poured in a season-high 22 points for the Breakers (8-13, 4-2) and senior Adam Selevan had 16.
The Breakers had a bye Wednesday and host Estancia in another huge league game at 7 tonight. Estancia is 5-1 in league, in first place by a game, so Laguna could force a first-place tie with a win tonight. Calvary Chapel is 5-3 in league and plays at Godinez (3-3) tonight.
The Breakers finish their regular season at Godinez on Wednesday.
"It kind of comes down to that one [tonight against Estancia]," Coach Bret Fleming said. "If we'll have a chance [to win league], we'll have to get that one."
The Breakers fell, 3-1, at Calvary Chapel on Jan. 29. The loss dropped Laguna to 4-15-1 overall and 0-6 in league.
The Breakers finish up their season by hosting Estancia at 6:30 tonight, then playing at Godinez on Wednesday.
Laguna took a big step toward punching its CIF playoff ticket for the second straight year, upsetting league leader Estancia on the road Saturday, 2-1, then tying the Eagles, 1-1, at Guyer Field on Tuesday.
The Breakers came into Thursday's home game against Godinez with a 1-2-3 league record, and could clinch a playoff spot with a win in that game. Laguna also plays at Godinez in its regular-season finale Tuesday.
At Estancia on Saturday, the Eagles scored a goal in the first minute, but Laguna wasn't deterred. Jessie Good Man scored in the 30th minute on Sam Kafer's assist, then Kafer found the back of the net in the 67th minute on Alex DeGarmo's feed.
"This time we rallied and behind a strong defense, led by seniors Christina Gardilcic and Kelsey Peterson, the Breakers found their passing game," Coach Bill Rolfing said.
Ryan Bakkum made eight saves for Laguna.
Two days later in Laguna Beach, Estancia again took the lead, but the Breakers tied it late in the game. Jenny Maddocks' corner kick went to the far post, where Kafer connected and the ball went back to the near post, where Gardilcic scored in the 80th minute.
Good Man also did a stellar defensive job on Estancia senior forward Heather Flores, Rolfing said.
"We never hung our head, never stopped battling," Rolfing said. "Estancia was looking for revenge [from Saturday], but the tie was a nice result."