Laguna Beach girls’ water polo tops Newport Harbor, stays in Surf League striking distance

Newport Harbor's Sofia Del Villar and Laguna Beach's Ava Knepper battle for a ball during a Surf League match.
Newport Harbor’s Sofia Del Villar and Laguna Beach’s Ava Knepper battle for a ball during a Surf League match on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Lauren Short is known as the “hype man” for the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team.

The senior center is headed to Villanova University to play. But in a program ripe with talent like Laguna Beach, she still comes off the bench. Princeton-bound Charlotte Riches starts for the Breakers at two meters.

Short leads Laguna Beach in other ways, like in the weight room. She tries to push the starters at practice.

“Throughout our whole career, Charlotte’s been better than me, and that’s amazing,” Short said. “I’m so happy for her, the player she is. A lot of times, especially last year, I wouldn’t play that much in the water. I still wanted be a part of the team, so that was a way I could feel good about myself and the team and contribute.”

Short shouldn’t sell herself, well, short.

Laguna Beach's Lauren Short smiles after scoring a goal against Newport Harbor during a Surf League match on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Her energy helped propel the team early in the third quarter of Tuesday’s key Surf League match against Newport Harbor. In the period of two minutes, she drew an exclusion and then assisted a power-play goal. The next time down the pool, she got inside water and scored on a pass from sophomore Presley Jones.

These two plays helped break a halftime tie, as Laguna Beach pulled away for an 8-5 victory at Los Alamitos High. The Breakers (13-6, 3-1 in league) stayed in contention for the league title, a game behind Los Alamitos with two games remaining.

Short, who drew two exclusions and also had a steal, helped lead the charge off the bench.

“She’s worked super-hard in practice for years, and I’m happy that it paid off for her today,” coach Claire Sonne said. “I think people overlook her. She’s a really, really good center.”

Laguna Beach's Presley Jones looks for an open shot against Newport Harbor's Chloe Rizof during Tuesday's match.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Breakers, who are tied for fourth in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll with Newport Harbor, had balanced scoring. Seven players scored the team’s first seven goals, before sophomore Kara Carver put away her second goal late.

Cleo Washer, Myha Pinto, Jordan Schneider, Ava Knepper and Emmy Hensley also scored for Laguna Beach. Knepper, celebrating her 17th birthday, also drew four exclusions, and senior goalkeeper Lauren Schneider made nine saves.

Laguna Beach led by three goals with less than three minutes left. It was the same scenario as the last time the teams played, when Newport Harbor rallied for the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions title in overtime. But this time, the Breakers finished the game.

“This was definitely a redemption game,” Washer said. “Fourth quarter, you could tell in everyone’s eyes that they were really pumped up. We weren’t going to let what happened last time happen.”

Ryan Chalupnik and Chloe Rizof led Newport Harbor (17-5, 3-2) with two goals each, while Caitlin Stayt had a goal and three steals. Senior goalkeeper Anna Reed made five saves.

Newport coach Ross Sinclair said his team’s first goal was its best. Harper Price made a swing pass to Sofia Del Villar, who quickly fed Chalupnik inside for a goal. It was also perhaps the Sailors’ best look of the match.

Newport Harbor's Chiara Amoroso takes a shot against Laguna Beach's Kara Carver during Tuesday's Surf League match.
Newport Harbor’s Chiara Amoroso takes a shot against Laguna Beach’s Kara Carver during Tuesday’s Surf League match.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“The energy was there, the competitive spirit was there,” Sinclair said. “We’re just giving up easy goals, and we’re having to work really hard for our goals. That’s what we need to fix, but overall, it was a good learning opportunity for us.”

Both squads compete next in the eight-team Newport Invite tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday at Newport Harbor High. The host Sailors begin against Oaks Christian on Thursday at 2:30 p.m., while Laguna Beach plays Mater Dei on Thursday at 6 p.m.


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