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Laguna Beach girls’ water polo shows off depth in win over Orange Lutheran

Early in the season, coach Ethan Damato said the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team does not have a set starting lineup.

This might seem unusual for the Breakers, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2. What is actually unusual is the depth that Laguna Beach has, which allows Damato to make such a claim.

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“At least through this first month, we’re going to rotate lineups every game,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got 13, 14 players who can start. I think that’s one of the mottos of this team, that you’ve got to be ready whether you’re starting or you’re coming off the bench. We’ve got a really deep squad, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in that depth.”

Morgan Van Alphen was ready for her chances this weekend.

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The junior scored two goals off the bench as the Breakers beat No. 2-ranked Orange Lutheran 6-3 on Saturday in a showcase game at Newport Harbor High.

Laguna Beach (5-0) stayed undefeated by beating the Lancers (4-2). It was Van Alphen who also stepped up Friday night against Santa Barbara San Marcos, scoring all three of her goals in the second half as the Breakers rallied for a 10-7 win over the defending Division 1 champion.

“Even if you don’t start one game, that doesn’t mean you aren’t one of the better players on our team,” Van Alphen said. “I think that even if you don’t start, nobody gets down about not starting. We’re a really big team. We have our roles, and we all know we need to step into them, whether you’re a starter or you come off the bench.”

Sophomores Rachael Carver, Molly Renner and Nicole Struss added one goal each for the Breakers, as did junior defender Grace Houlahan. Van Alphen also had a team-best three steals, with Struss and senior Claire Kelly contributing two each.

Senior goalkeeper Quinn Winter made nine saves, at least four of them coming with Orange Lutheran in a power-play situation. The Breakers held the Lancers to just one “natural” goal, as Orange Lutheran scored one goal on a penalty shot and one on a six-on-five.

“I thought our team defense was great overall,” Damato said. “Grace Houlahan did a great job today defending for us, and Quinn was obviously great in the cage … Those [five-on-six] saves were huge. Our shot-blockers were beat, and Quinn saved us. Those were big momentum saves, I thought, in the game.”

Senior Brooke Hourigan, a Newport Beach resident who recently committed to Harvard, led Orange Lutheran with two goals. Hourigan’s penalty shot finally put Orange Lutheran on the scoreboard, as Laguna Beach held a 3-1 lead with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter.

Shutting out Orange Lutheran in the first half was impressive for the Breakers.

“Our team does a really good job of playing together, instead of playing one on one, and I think that really helps with the defense,” Winter said. “I make the saves because my defense funnels them to me. They do a really good job of helping with that.”

Even after Hourigan’s penalty shot, the Breakers quickly answered. Sophomore left-hander Emma Lineback assisted Houlahan’s goal on Laguna Beach’s next possession, then Van Alphen added a six-on-five strike with two seconds left in the quarter as Laguna opened up a 5-1 advantage.

The Breakers were on their way to their second big win in as many days.

“We knew we were going to get tested this week, and they were two different types of tests,” Damato said. “[Friday] night, coming from behind, we proved we could do that with this team. Today, it was going out to a lead and holding a lead. I thought both were great for the maturity of this team.”

Laguna Beach hosts Mater Dei on Friday at 4 p.m. in another key nonleague game.

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