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Laguna Beach girls' water polo gets past San Clemente in CIF SoCal Regional opener

Six days after capturing the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title, the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team set out to win another title in its final tournament of the season.

Laguna Beach is the top seed for the CIF Southern California Regional Division I tournament, which started Friday at Segerstrom High.

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The regional tournament, in its second year, is a bit a grind. The Breakers (30-1) don’t necessarily feel like they have anything to prove.

“I don’t know if there’s any team that’s really that excited about this tournament, to be honest with you,” Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said. “But yeah, if we’re going to be here, we want to do our best. We talked about that. We’re going to put our best foot forward, and hopefully that means winning.”

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The Breakers did so in their first match of the tournament, earning a 10-4 victory over No. 8-seeded San Clemente.

Junior Tea Poljak, who had the winning goal in sudden-death for the 9-8 win in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match against Corona del Mar, had three goals Friday. Laguna Beach advanced to the Division I regional semifinal, where it will play the Foothill-The Bishop’s School of La Jolla winner at 1:40 p.m. Saturday back at Segerstrom.

The regional final is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Junior defender Grace Houlahan added two goals for Laguna Beach, while Imani Clemons, Emma Lineback, Molly Renner, Nicole Struss and Morgan Van Alphen had one goal each. Senior goalkeeper Quinn Winter had seven saves.

Laguna Beach High goalkeeper Quinn Winter attempts to block a shot by San Clemente's Juliette Clark in a CIF Southern California Regional Division I playoff opener on Friday at Segerstrom High.
Laguna Beach High goalkeeper Quinn Winter attempts to block a shot by San Clemente's Juliette Clark in a CIF Southern California Regional Division I playoff opener on Friday at Segerstrom High. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Houlahan, Renner and Struss each had two assists for Laguna Beach, tying for team-high honors. Struss and Van Alphen each led the team with three steals.

Laguna Beach converted half of its six-on-five chances (four for eight) while holding San Clemente to one goal in eight extra-player chances.

The Breakers took a bit of a break after winning the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. They did not practice until Wednesday this week, said Damato, who tweaked the lineups a bit against CIF Southern Section Division 2 finalist San Clemente (17-15).

“Everybody played,” Damato said. “All 16 girls played, and we were going six in, six out a majority of the game.”

Clemons, a sophomore center, drew the start and was impressive early. She drew two exclusions, as well as a five-meter penalty shot, in the first quarter that ended with the Breakers up 3-2.

“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, I’m not going to lie, but it was exciting coming back and being able to play center,” said Clemons, who finished with three exclusions drawn. “It’s always fun playing center for the team, because everybody’s kind of working with you and around you. It was fun playing today.”

Damato said the Breakers, who won the Southern California Division II regional title last year, will enjoy playing one more tournament together this weekend.

Clemons echoed that sentiment.

“It’s always sad when you have to leave your team, but getting a chance to play again in this tournament is super-exciting,” she said. “We’re going to try to give it our all, and play like a team for whatever games we have left.”

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