IRVINE — The rain came and went Saturday afternoon at Irvine High. Momentum seemed to change just as quickly in the CIF Southern Section Division II girls’ water polo championship game.
But unfortunately for Laguna Beach High, a repeat wasn’t in the forecast.
Second-seeded Palos Verdes led through most of the game and ended up with a 6-5 victory over the top-seeded and defending-champion Breakers.
Laguna Beach had established itself as a favorite to repeat after winning at Palos Verdes’ pool, 10-5, in a nonleague game in late January. But Saturday afternoon, the Breakers were done in by a tough shooting day, as well as a standout performance by Palos Verdes senior goalie Ali Solaro (14 saves).
“The girls played tough all game,” Laguna Beach Coach Ethan Damato said. “The girls were playing their butts off for four quarters As far as what we were trying to do, we did it, but we just didn’t put the ball in the back of the cage.”
The Breakers had trailed since the second quarter, but the momentum seemed to be with them midway through the fourth. Junior Jessie Holechek scored her second player-advantage goal of the game with 5:09 left in the game, pulling Laguna Beach (22-9) within 6-5. The goal came after Solaro was excluded while battling the Breakers’ Jessica Shusko for possession.
The Breakers then got a big save by junior goalie Etianne Manetta (11 saves) on a shot from USC-bound Palos Verdes senior Colleen O’Donnell. On the other end, the Breakers’ lone senior, Stanford-bound Lexie Ross, earned an exclusion.
Holechek got the ball at the “one” position, but this time Solaro was there to make the save with 3:40 to go. Damato said Holechek was initially open, but the ball took too long to get there.
“That second time, I was not going to let any more goals go in,” said Solaro, who has committed to Marist College in New York. “This win means everything to me. After that ejection on me, which I thought was complete baloney, I was not letting any more go in.”
The Breakers never really got a good look at the goal the rest of the way. They got one final chance with two seconds to go, but a shot from mid-pool was after the final buzzer.
Ross and sophomores Melena Masson and Yoshi Andersen also had goals for the Breakers, and junior Riley Duncan had a nice defensive game with three steals.
Laguna held Palos Verdes scoreless in the fourth quarter, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
“You hold them to six goals, you should win,” Damato said.
Sophomore Monica Vavic, the daughter of USC Coach Jovan Vavic, scored a game-high three goals for the Sea Kings. She helped deliver Palos Verdes its first CIF title in program history.
“You could tell that she really wanted it bad,” Masson said. “Their whole team just brought it together and made it happen.”
Princeton-bound senior Molly McBee didn’t score, but had four steals for Palos Verdes.
Laguna led, 2-1, after a quarter, but Vavic scored on a counter with 4:49 left in the half. She then scored a six-on-five goal and after Sea Kings freshman Ellie D’Ambra also scored on the power play, Palos Verdes had surged to a 4-2 lead.
“They were ready to go and they got us a little bit frazzled there in the second quarter, took some momentum from us,” Damato said. “I thought that was kind of where they won the game.”
The Breakers were going for title No. 3 in program history, including last year’s triumph over Montebello and the Division IV title in 2001. With only Ross graduating, they should be considered one of the favorites to get it done next year.
But for now, this might be the one that got away.
Not for Palos Verdes, though, which beat Laguna Beach for the first time in six tries since 2007.
“It really opened our eyes,” Solaro said of the Breakers’ 10-5 drubbing in the nonleague contest. “We started getting their films, we watched about three of them. I personally went to about three of their games. We prepared so much more. Honestly, if they didn’t come to our pool and play us like that, I don’t know what the outcome would have been [today].”
A High Standard
The Laguna Beach girls’ water polo program has made it to at least CIF quarterfinals every year since 1999.
1999 — Lost in Division IV quarterfinals to Rosary, 11-4
2000 — Lost in Division IV quarterfinals to Santa Margarita, 12-5
2001 — Won Division IV title over University, 6-4
2002 — Lost in Division IV quarterfinals to El Dorado, 5-3
2003 — Lost in Division II semifinals to Villa Park, 8-6
2004 — Lost in Division II semifinals to Peninsula, 4-2
2005 — Lost in Division II final to Corona del Mar, 9-5
2006 — Lost in Division II quarterfinals to Villa Park, 9-6
2007 — Lost in Division II final to Agoura, 11-10
2008 — Lost in Division II semifinals to Dos Pueblos, 9-8
2009 — Won Division II title over Montebello, 9-5
2010 — Lost in Division II final to Palos Verdes, 6-5