Foothill hands Laguna Beach girls’ water polo its first loss

Laguna Beach's Emma Lineback scores against Foothill during the first half in a nonleague match on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang/Staff Photographer)

The Foothill High girls’ water polo team has a senior-laden group, with seven players signed to play at NCAA Division 1 programs.

The Knights, however, did not perform particularly well in placing fourth at the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup tournament last weekend. Laguna Beach won the tournament for the seventh straight year with ease.

This may have made Saturday morning’s nonleague match between the Knights and Breakers to seem like a mismatch. What it was for the Knights was an opportunity.

“For us, this whole week was like, how do we get back to good water polo?” first-year Foothill coach Paden Mitchell said. “I think we walked away [from the tournament] with a bad taste in our mouth. We are so much better than what we played last week. That was our main mission today, to show ourselves and show everyone else that we aren’t the team that we saw last week.”

Mission accomplished for Foothill, which built a three-goal lead and held on to upset top-ranked Laguna Beach 8-7 at Foothill High.

UCLA-bound left-handed senior attacker Malia Allen led a well-balanced Foothill attack with three goals. Cal-bound senior defender Mallory Reynoso scored twice, as did USC-bound attacker Julia Janov. Michaela Strickland, bound for UC Irvine, added one goal.

Stanford-bound senior Celeste Wijnbelt dished out three assists for Foothill (8-2), which surged into control with four straight goals in the third quarter. Junior goalkeeper Kristen Hemmila made 11 saves.

Foothill was the only team to beat Laguna Beach in the regular season last year, winning in the semifinals of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. The Knights did it again Saturday against the Breakers (11-1).

“They are a great team,” Allen said. “Laguna is a great team and Ethan is an amazing coach. When we get the opportunity to play them, we just have to respect their skills and work hard. That’s what we did all week. We were really focusing on Laguna and just training. We definitely practiced a lot of five-on-six and we tried to close their counters. We knew that if we played their game against them, it would be a good game. We tried to get up on the counter, and I think it worked really well for us.”

Laguna Beach tried to rally, and shut out Foothill in the fourth quarter. Breakers senior Morgan Van Alphen scored a power-play goal with 4:22 left in the quarter, then junior Nicole Struss added an even-strength goal from center with 3:27 remaining to pull the Breakers within 8-7. But the equalizer never came.

Foothill held Laguna Beach to three-for-12 in power-play opportunities, while converting five of 10 such chances.

“Foothill plays good five-on-six [defense], and that’s typical for them,” Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said. “That’s one of the strengths of their team. They did a really nice job, and then I think we didn’t execute very well on our end, the way that we wanted to. This is going to be one of many battles, I think, this year with them. They just outplayed us today, kind of in every aspect, in my opinion. Hat’s off to them.”

Juniors Molly Renner and Emma Lineback led Laguna Beach with two goals each, while fellow junior Rachael Carver also had a goal. Lineback tallied three assists, and freshman goalkeeper Lauren Schneider made five saves.

Mitchell was enthusiastic throughout, either while encouraging his team or engaging with the referees. At the final whistle, the Knights had a big win.

“Those seniors just keep us level, keep us believing in the things that we do well,” said Mitchell of a class that also includes University of Hawaii-bound Morgan Rios and San Diego State-bound Paige Goemer. “They also take the challenge of working on the things we don’t do well. I think toward the end of the year, that’s just going to make us a better team. I love that they’re not satisfied. They continually want to get better and do things right.”

Laguna Beach returns to action Tuesday, when it plays Newport Harbor in a Surf League opener at 5 p.m. at Corona del Mar High.


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