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Two-way effort leads Laguna Beach girls' water polo past Mater Dei

The Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo program has had its share of stars.

While Breakers coach Ethan Damato will not deny that his roster is once again loaded with talent, he is telling anyone that will listen that the strength of this season’s team is the team.

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Few will argue, especially with the depth that the Breakers displayed against Mater Dei, the No. 5-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 poll.

Nine players scored for the host Breakers, as top-ranked Laguna Beach defeated the Monarchs 14-6 on Friday night in a nonleague game.

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Damato made wholesale changes when opting to make substitutions. By halftime, he had used 15 field players to build an 8-2 lead. All 17 of the Breakers’ field players saw action.

Sophomore attacker Emma Lineback led the Breakers (6-0) with five goals, doing most of her damage from inside of two meters. She also scored on a left-handed laser from nine meters out to beat the shot clock with 5:58 left in the third quarter, extending the Laguna Beach lead to 9-2.

“I think it really helps when the other side is moving, and it just really opens up a big lane for our post-up players to drive in and get position,” Lineback said. “We’re really good this year. A lot of people can do everything. When you post up, you trust your teammates. You know that they’re going to release and get you the ball.”

Molly Renner opened the scoring on a stretch pass from goalkeeper Quinn Winter. Solid defense saw the Breakers come away with 12 steals, and Laguna Beach was able to extend its advantage to 8-1 when sophomore defender Kenedy Corlett scored on a six-on-five with 1:32 left in the second quarter.

The opening goal fit directly into the game plan for Damato, who said that he wanted his team to look to score on the counterattack.

“I thought we really committed to our defensive plan,” Damato said. “We pressed really hard, and then we committed to the counterattack, as well.

“We were able to get out and swim and make them chase us a little bit. I thought we did a great job of executing in the first half.”

Tea Poljak, Renner and Corlett each had two steals. Sophomore utility player Nicole Struss also proved to be a rugged defender, as she was matched up against Stanford signee Hannah Constandse.

“We play really good team defense,” Struss said. “Everyone is looking to help each other. Their head is on a swivel. As a team, we always have each other’s backs.”

Laguna Beach executed at both ends of the pool. On offense, the Breakers went five for 13 on their power-play opportunities. Rachael Carver also converted a pair of five-meter penalty shots for the Breakers in the second half.

On the other end, the Breakers allowed the Monarchs (6-1) to score on just one of their nine six-on-five advantages.

Laguna Beach High goalkeeper Quinn Winter stops a shot during a nonleague water polo game against visiting Mater Dei on Friday.
Laguna Beach High goalkeeper Quinn Winter stops a shot during a nonleague water polo game against visiting Mater Dei on Friday. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I think our team just does a really good job of playing together instead of separately,” Winter said. “Our team doesn’t play individually. We play as one big unit, and I think that is what really helps us with our success.”

The UCLA-committed Winter made seven saves. Monarchs freshman goalkeeper Jada Ward blocked nine shots.

In the third quarter, each goalkeeper stopped five shots, but Winter said she did not get caught up in a showdown with her counterpart.

“I’ve seen her play,” Winter said. “She is a great player, but I think I worry more about how my team defense is doing. The reason that I block balls is because my team knows to listen to me talking.

“That way, they funnel the balls to me. It’s their work on defense that makes me able to play well.”

Laguna Beach has been playing well as a team, with its last three wins coming against opponents ranked inside the top six of the combined Division 1 and 2 poll.

Next week, the Breakers will put their undefeated record on the line in the Holiday Cup, which will be held at Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar.

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