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Laguna Beach girls’ water polo wins sixth straight Bill Barnett Holiday Cup title with win over CdM

In an era where many high school athletes zone out with music in earbuds before a game, the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team takes a different approach.

The Breakers collectively listen to music out of a speaker given to them last year by program graduate Alex Peros. Goalkeeper Quinn Winter acts as the DJ, taking requests and building a playlist.

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“It just fires us all up,” sophomore Nicole Struss said. “It’s part of the pregame ritual now.”

The music could be heard prior to Saturday’s Bill Barnett Holiday Cup tournament title match. It still couldn’t compare to the way the deep Breakers groove together while they’re in the water.

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Junior Tea Poljak scored three goals as top-seeded Laguna Beach edged Corona del Mar 9-8 at Newport Harbor High, winning its sixth straight Bill Barnett Holiday Cup championship.

The Breakers (11-0) remain the team to beat. They started off strong against CdM (7-2), as Poljak, Struss and junior Morgan Van Alphen all scored power-play goals in the first three minutes for a 3-0 lead. CdM senior standout Sophie Wallace was kicked out twice during the run.

“It was insane,” said Poljak, who also drew three exclusions for Laguna Beach, which finished five for six on the power play. “Our intensity was really good. We had a good pregame, pumping each other up. I think it was just our mentality.”

CdM battled back to tie it at 3-3 late in the first half after a rebound goal by senior Layne Anzaldo, but the Breakers surged ahead again, taking an 8-5 advantage by the end of the third quarter.

Still, the Sea Kings didn’t go away. Sophomore Grace Myers (four goals and four exclusions drawn) scored from eight meters, then her bar-down strike drew CdM within 8-7 with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Myers scored again with 47 seconds left to make the score 9-8. Poljak’s next shot was deflected out by standout CdM junior goalie Maya Avital, but that only meant the Breakers kept possession with 23 seconds remaining and could run the clock out.

It was a good final for the USC commit Poljak, who had struggled a bit with her shooting earlier in the tournament. She didn’t score in either the Breakers’ 10-4 quarterfinal win over Newport Harbor, nor their 7-5 semifinal win over Orange Lutheran earlier Saturday.

“Her scoring that first six-on-five set the tone,” Breakers coach Ethan Damato said. “I think she’s got the tools to be the best shooter in the country. We’ve all seen what she’s able to do with the ball in her hands, and we’re excited to see more of that.”

Sophomore Kenedy Corlett also scored two big second-half goals off the bench for Laguna Beach, one off an exclusion drawn by fellow sophomore Imani Clemons. The Breakers got eight saves from Winter and a goal and two steals from sophomore Molly Renner. Senior Claire Kelly had two assists and three steals.

Avital made 17 saves for CdM in the final.

“She’s physically gifted, but she’s never satisfied with where she’s at,” CdM coach Justin Papa said. “She does everything you want a goalie to do. I would definitely say that she’s the best goalie I’ve seen in the division.”

Emma Lineback led the Breakers with two goals in the semifinal victory over Orange Lutheran, while Renner had a strong game with a goal, three assists and four steals.

CdM got to the final after a big 5-4 win over Foothill in the other semifinal, avenging a one-goal loss from earlier in the season. Myers scored the winning goal with five seconds left on an inside drive, assisted by Wallace.

Senior Carter Britt scored three goals for the Sea Kings in the semifinal win.

Still, the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup title remains with Laguna Beach.

“I’m just really impressed with this team so far, how they’ve stepped up when being challenged,” Damato said. “I’m really happy for this group and this team. The other stuff may sink in later, but right now I’m just stoked for this team.”

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