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Laguna Beach pegs alumna Claire Sonne to take over girls’ water polo program

Claire Sonne helped Laguna Beach High girls' water polo win the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in 2017.
Claire Sonne helped Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo win the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in her senior year of 2017.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

When Claire Sonne was a senior captain for the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo program, coach Ethan Damato said he wasn’t sure he’d ever coached a player who cared as much as she did.

Five years later, the Breakers have turned to Sonne to keep their special winning culture going.

Laguna Beach has hired Sonne as its new girls’ water polo coach, athletic director Denise Selbe confirmed Wednesday. Another program alumnus, Camron Hauer, has been hired to coach the Breakers boys’ water polo team.

“I have so much love for the Laguna Beach water polo community,” Sonne said. “It’s such a special community that has affected me positively on a personal level in many facets — obviously as a player, and getting to assistant coach and shadowing Ethan last summer was really awesome and powerful. I definitely wanted to jump at the opportunity to be involved again.”

Damato, who won nine total CIF Southern Section championships at his alma mater in 14 years of coaching, resigned as the boys’ and girls’ water polo coach in April. He has since started a position with USA Water Polo as women’s Olympic Development Program Academy coach.

Sonne, 22, helped lead the Breakers to the 2017 CIF Southern Section Division 1 title as a senior. She played four years at Cal, graduating last year with a 3.77 cumulative grade-point average and a degree in gender and women’s studies.

Sonne spent the most recent college season assisting with the Cal State Northridge women, after coaching with SET — the club team that Laguna Beach High girls play for — last summer. She has also been serving as the 18-and-under girls’ head coach at South Coast Aquatics in the Thousand Oaks area.

Laguna Beach has won three of the last five CIF Southern Section titles in the top division, and was an Open Division finalist this year. The Breakers are expected to again be contenders next year, returning players like incoming senior goalkeeper Lauren Schneider and center Charlotte Riches, as well as incoming junior Ava Knepper.

“It’s definitely some huge shoes to fill,” Sonne said. “Ethan has created an incredible legacy of success, both in and out of the pool ... but I think I’m somebody who veers toward pressure and thrives under pressure. I felt really excited about the potential of getting to continue on this legacy of great team culture, winning championships and, more than anything, helping these student-athletes achieve their goals in life. The stars have aligned and it’s a great homecoming for me. Coming full circle here is really special, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Hauer, 27, also played for Damato at Laguna Beach before graduating in 2013. He was a part of the Breakers’ Division 3 championship teams in 2010 and 2011.

Hauer played four years of college water polo at Cal Lutheran.

Laguna’s boys’ water polo team finished third in the very competitive Surf League last fall, reaching the Open Division quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Newport Harbor.

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