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Rachael Carver, Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo player, commits to Princeton

Rachael Carver, who is headed to Princeton, is one of 11 Laguna Beach girls' water polo seniors committed to  colleges.
Rachael Carver, who is headed to Princeton, is one of 11 Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo seniors committed to play in college.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Rachael Carver is known as a smart player for the Laguna Beach High School girls’ water polo team, so it might not be a surprise that she would also make a smart decision for her future.

Carver has committed to play water polo at Princeton University, she said Thursday. Her commitment means that all 11 players from the Breakers’ class of 2021 have committed to play the sport in college.

“I went and visited Princeton in late June with my parents [Rob and Julie],” Carver said. “Obviously, it was different because there were no students there on campus and we couldn’t go into any buildings or anything. That was my first time back to the East Coast, actually, and it was just eye-opening to me how big the world really is, and how much I haven’t really seen.”

Carver, who said she has a 3.9 weighted grade-point average, said she enjoyed the academic aspect of Princeton and the water polo team.

Grace Houlahan, a 2020 Laguna Beach High graduate, redshirted this year at Princeton and will be coming into the program at the same time as Carver. Breakers alumni CiCi Stewart and Alana Evans already play for the Tigers, while alumna Cara Borkovec is an assistant coach.

Carver, an attacker, is entering her fourth year as a key varsity contributor for Laguna Beach. Last year, she ranked fourth on the Breakers (33-1) with 37 goals, and her 60 assists led the team. She also had 41 steals, another team-best total.

Carver comes from a water polo family. Rob is a former Sunny Hills High and USC star in the sport. Rachael’s younger sisters, Hannah, who’s a junior at Laguna Beach, and Kara, an eighth-grader, also play.

“She’s a really smart kid in general,” Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said of Rachael, a first-team All-Surf League selection as a junior.

“As a young player, she just had a great feel for the game, and was very mature and intelligent always. For us, she was our leader in that sense this last year, in terms of just making the smart plays. What a testament to what she’s done not only in the pool but in the classroom, to be able to set herself up to do this. I’m really proud of the work she’s put in for both arenas, to be able to put herself in a situation to attend a school like that.”

All 11 Laguna Beach High girls' water polo seniors have committed to play in college.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo)

Carver said the seniors have a special bond in the pool, and hope to defend their back-to-back CIF Southern Section Division 1 titles this year. Nicole Struss, Emma Lineback and Molly Renner are all committed to UCLA, with Emma Singer and Jessie Rose are both headed to Cal.

The other commits include Imani Clemons and Kenedy Corlett (UC Santa Barbara), Skylar Kidd (Indiana), Mikayla Lopez (Loyola Marymount) and Ella Baumgarten (Marist College of New York).

“It’s pretty amazing,” Carver said. “Just going through high school, I always wondered where we would all end up in college. Now that everybody knows where they’re going, it’s just unbelievable. It’s just crazy to me that there’s 11 of us, and all of us have worked so hard for so long. Growing up, we’ve always been best friends, all of us. We’ve all just come so far, and I’m just proud of everyone.”

Damato said that the class of 2021 is the deepest class in his time coaching at his alma mater. The class of 2018, led by Stanford-bound goalkeeper Thea Walsh, had eight college signees.

“I think back to Rachael’s dad, Rob Carver, who coached in them in 14s, and Scott Baldridge [father of program alumni Mackenzie and Bella Baldridge] coached them the year before,” Damato said.

“That’s a couple of dads who had a lot to do with the future of these girls, and we’re so lucky to have the Laguna Beach age-group program to give us classes like this. It’s been amazing how hard they’ve grinded and been committed as a class over these years, with year-round club, high school, weights, swim team. As a group, they’ve just been relentless.”

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