Water polo can be a very physical sport.
This is not exactly news to Laguna Beach High’s Molly Renner.
Renner played every minute of last season’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo title match. She did so with a black eye, suffered three days earlier in the semifinals.
Renner was inadvertently hit in the face during the fourth-quarter sprint of the Breakers’ 9-6 victory over Foothill at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center. The match had to be momentarily stopped as she kept bleeding.
She asked to go back in, but Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said no.
“For the next two days, her eye was completely bloodshot, and she had a giant black eye,” Damato said.
Come the Division 1 title match, Renner was ready to roll. She had a goal and an assist as Laguna Beach edged Corona del Mar 9-8 in sudden-death overtime for the Breakers’ fourth Division 1 title in six years.
“It’s a great example of her grit and toughness,” Damato said. “Molly loves her teammates and her team more than anything. She’s not afraid to show that love. She’s going to go to battle for her girls.”
Perhaps some of it comes from being the youngest of four children, each of whom came through the Laguna Beach aquatics program. Molly’s older brothers, Tommy and Billy, both played water polo, and her older sister, Maggie, was a swimmer. Tommy Renner, the oldest sibling, was a senior on the 2011 boys’ water polo team coached by Damato that won the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title. Current Laguna Beach assistant coach Nolan McConnell was also a senior on that squad.
Molly Renner is a good swimmer in her own right. She was the Wave League runner-up in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events last spring. She uses her quickness to her advantage in water polo, but also possesses a hard shot.
Renner, a three-year varsity player, is putting together a big junior year after tying for the team lead with 48 goals last year as a sophomore. She has 36 goals, which ranks second on the team, along with 19 assists and 21 steals.
Renner earned tournament MVP honors as Laguna Beach won the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions on Jan. 11, beating Newport Harbor 8-3 in the title match at Goleta Dos Pueblos High.
Laguna Beach (17-1, 2-0 in the Surf League) has established itself as the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 poll. Renner had a particularly strong game in the semifinals of the TOC, as her three goals matched junior left-hander Emma Lineback for team-high honors in a 9-8 win over Foothill.
Renner’s goal from six meters tied the Knights at 7-7 early in the fourth quarter, part of a three-goal run by Laguna Beach.
“It felt really nice,” Renner said. “Every single time they scored, my heart hurt. I was like, ‘We need to score right now, we’re not losing.’ It was a fun game to win ... Foothill was battling the whole game, so we had to battle even harder to get back up. It was a four-quarter battle.”
The victory was important for the Breakers, as it avenged an 8-7 loss on the road to the Knights on Jan. 4. Laguna Beach and Foothill have developed a healthy rivalry. Last year, Foothill was the only team to beat Laguna Beach in the regular season, also in the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions.
Renner, who has been playing the sport since 10-and-unders, doesn’t exactly need the motivation of a rivalry to step up her game. She is always highly competitive and a good motivator for her teammates.
“She’s not real into the X’s and O’s,” Damato said. “She’s kind of like, ‘Let’s go play.’ In my opinion, she’s kind of like a baller for us.”
She hopes to earn her second CIF championship ring this year, which would be something to talk about at home. She said her brother, Tommy, who played at Johns Hopkins, currently lives at home as he prepares for a career as a doctor. He recently took the MCAT exam.
Support also comes from Renner’s parents, Bill and Beth. Sometimes Molly will hear her mother yelling her name during a match.
“She’s always like, ‘Go, baby cat!’” Renner said with a laugh. “They all call me ‘baby,’ still to this day. It’s funny.”
Born: Oct. 29, 2002
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 5 feet 9
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Ethan Damato
Favorite food: Sushi
Favorite movie: “Deadpool”
Favorite athletic moment: Winning gold at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics for the first time in 14-and-unders.
Week in review: Renner earned tournament MVP honors at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions after helping the Breakers win the tournament for the fourth time. In the four matches, she had a combined seven goals, four assists and two steals.
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