Mater Dei bounces Laguna Beach girls’ water polo in Open Division quarterfinals

Laguna Beach's Kara Carver (7) shoots for the goal against Mater Dei on Thursday night.
(James Carbone)

There is something special about being a part of the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team.

Maybe that’s why the hug between seniors Emmy Hensley and Ava Knepper lasted so long on the Mater Dei High pool deck after Thursday night’s match.

“Ava and I, we’ve literally known each other and played together since we were 7 or 8 years old,” Hensley said. “We’ve been through thick and thin. Regardless of anything, we’ve just gone through it all, and to have that connection with someone is special.”

Laguna Beach's goalie Siena Jumani (1) and Ava Knepper (12) try to stop Mater Dei's Penny Mauser (5).
Laguna Beach’s goalie Siena Jumani (1) and Ava Knepper (12) try to stop Mater Dei’s Penny Mauser (5) during Thursday night’s game.
(James Carbone)

Hensley and Knepper are now headed to play polo at Brown University and USC, respectively.

There were tears but also reflection after the Breakers fell to the No. 3-seeded host Monarchs 12-6 in the CIF Southern Section Open Division quarterfinals, ending their season.

Freshman Emerson Mulvey scored a match-high five goals for Mater Dei (24-5), which will play at No. 2 Foothill in a semifinal match on Wednesday. Freshman Delaney Hook and sophomore Riley Johnson combined for five more goals, and Michigan-bound senior goalkeeper Sophia Bunnell made 12 saves.

Laguna Beach's Presley Jones (9) tries to shoot past Mater Dei's Emerson Mulvey (9) during the Open Division quarterfinals.
Laguna Beach’s Presley Jones (9) tries to shoot past Mater Dei’s Emerson Mulvey (9) during the Open Division quarterfinals.
(James Carbone)

As for Laguna Beach, the co-Surf League champions ended their season with a 16-12 record. Hensley, Knepper, Claire Turner, Kara Carver, Presley Jones and Sophie Colladay each scored a goal for the Breakers, with junior goalkeeper Siena Jumani making four saves.

The Breakers lost to the Monarchs for the third time this season, but Thursday’s result was the most lopsided. Mater Dei scored the match’s first four goals and built an 8-3 halftime advantage.

“We showed a lot of maturity with such a young team tonight,” Mater Dei coach Chris Segesman said. “For them to handle a moment like that against a really good team, and play that well, was just incredible ... And Sophia is the best goalie in high school and the backbone of our team.”

Laguna Beach's Ava Knepper (12) smiles after a goal against Mater Dei on Thursday night.
(James Carbone)

Laguna Beach was left to reflect on what was at times a difficult season, having to get used to typically utilizing just one or two players off the bench.

“Just because you know it’s the case doesn’t mean you’re not fatigued,” first-year Laguna Beach coach Katie Teets said. “Water polo is an extremely tough sport to have to play those type of intense minutes all the way through in an intense, championship type of game ... They stepped up in a lot of ways.”

Hensley did so individually, stepping in as a starting center — despite a relative lack of size — following the graduation of Charlotte Riches. As a co-captain, that could be expected, but she said her teammates also stepped up in a lot of ways.

This led to a memorable season, despite the win-loss record.

“We’ve been together since [10-and-unders], and we’re the same group,” Hensley said. “At the end of the day, I’m proud because we can do it with our little community and we have heart. This group, we’re original gangsters, we’re OGs, and that’s something that no other team has. That’s something I’m really proud of.”

Laguna Beach's Emmy Hensley (3) tries to pass over a Mater Dei defender on Thursday night.
(James Carbone)

Newport Harbor 10, San Marcos 9 (OT): The Sailors earned an upset win on the road against the No. 4-seeded Royals in another Open Division quarterfinal match Thursday night at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta.

Senior center Ryan Chalupnik scored five goals for Newport Harbor (17-9), which came back from an early deficit. Freshmen Gabby Alexson (three goals), Madison Mack and Valery Verdugo combined for the other five goals.

Sofia Del Villar had four assists, and goalkeeper Lydia Soderberg made eight saves.

Newport Harbor will play on the road against top-seeded Orange Lutheran in a semifinal match Wednesday.