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Laguna Beach girls’ water polo wins seventh straight Bill Barnett Holiday Cup title

Laguna Beach junior attacker Emma Lineback scores on Newport Harbor sophomore Morgan Netherton (4) during the first half in the semifinals of the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup on Saturday at Newport Harbor High.
(Kevin Chang/Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team passes around a “hard hat” after each match, as the Breakers have done for the last couple of years.

Nicole Struss presented the hard hat — actually a yellow baseball cap that says “Eggo,” on it, as in the waffle company — to fellow junior Rachael Carver on Saturday evening at Newport Harbor High.

“It’s kind of goofy, but it symbolizes something much more,” Carver said. “It shows our composure and our compassion for the game, how much we love it. It’s just something special that we have that shows our passion for one another.”

There could have been several candidates for the hard hat after another dominant performance from Laguna Beach. While opponents may not be saying “Leggo my Eggo,” it’s the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup tournament title that remains firmly in the Breakers’ grasp.

Emma Lineback scored four goals, and Struss and Carver scored three goals each in a 15-8 win over Santa Barbara San Marcos in the tournament final. Top-ranked Laguna Beach (11-0) won the tournament for the seventh straight year.

Carver also had four assists for the top-seeded Breakers, who breezed through the tournament despite missing starting senior defender Grace Houlahan (shoulder). That has cast junior Emma Singer into the starting center defender role, and Laguna Beach hasn’t missed a beat.

It’s that kind of depth that has the Breakers, the defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion, as the solid favorite to defend its title. Molly Renner, Morgan Van Alphen, Imani Clemons, Jessie Rose and Kenedy Corlett each added goals against No. 3-seeded San Marcos (10-3), and freshman goalkeeper Lauren Schneider made eight saves.

“I think when we’re scoring, we’re a tough team to keep up with,” Breakers coach Ethan Damato said. “We play really good defense and we swim really well, so when we’re able to score like that, it’s a lot of fun to watch. It makes it tough for everyone else.”

The Breakers started strong in both of their matches Saturday. They led upstart Newport Harbor 7-1 after the first quarter of the semifinal match, which Laguna Beach ended up winning 16-7. In the final, Laguna Beach stormed to a 10-3 halftime advantage.

“In general to start the year, we haven’t been that sharp in the first half,” Damato said. “That’s been a goal for us, to play better to start the game, and they took it to a new level today and even [Friday, when the Breakers took a 7-0 first-half lead in a tournament quarterfinal against Carlsbad]. We got a little bit more complete each game ... and I thought we played four really good quarters today in the finals.”

Lineback led the Breakers with four goals in the semifinal, while Renner and Struss scored three goals each.

“It’s really rewarding seeing all of our work finally come together in a tournament,” Struss said. “This has always been such a big tournament for us, and the beginning of the year kind of sets the pace and gives us momentum. We’ve been working so hard, and for us to be able to play so well together and have fun doing it, it was really special. I’m proud of winning it for the seventh year in a row. It’s cool to carry something on like that, something we weren’t a part of [before]. That’s pretty special.”

The Breakers return to action on Jan. 4, when they play at Foothill in a key nonleague match at 10 a.m. For now, they are satisfied with their progress, but ready to keep working. Corlett, Clemons and Rose are three players who have been improved in the water as part of a strong junior class.

“All of these girls are experienced, whether people have seen them in high school or not,” Damato said. “They’ve been playing in club and playing high-level water polo for a really long time. I think the girls know each other really well, and I coach them year-round. We’ve got a good chemistry going with the group. The girls understand their roles, and they’re doing it at a really, really high level right now.”

In other Bill Barnett Holiday Cup action:

Newport Harbor 9, Foothill 6: The Sailors upset the Knights in the tournament third-place match behind five goals from sophomore Taylor Smith. Lily Gess scored twice and Avery Montiel and Olivia Giolas added goals for Newport Harbor.

Smith said Newport Harbor (9-1) has been playing well, with seniors Emily Cantu and Ashley Salem also providing leadership.

“It was a really fun weekend to just push our limits and see how far we could come,” Smith said. “Everyone’s putting in really great effort, and it shows. I think we have a lot of energy, and that’s good to see.”

Carlsbad 8, Corona del Mar 3: The Sea Kings finished eighth in the tournament after dropping the seventh-place match.

Ella Musselman, Kate Rodman and Grace Myers scored one goal each for CdM (3-6).

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