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Laguna Beach girls’ water polo outlasts CdM in sudden death for CIF title

Tea Poljak had yet to score in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo title match, deep into sudden-death overtime.

The Laguna Beach High junior had been frustrated all match by CdM junior goalkeeper Maya Avital. Many of her teammates could say the same; Avital had 18 saves on the night.

Poljak never stopped shooting. It paid off for the Breakers big-time.

She scored the match-winning goal cross-cage from about eight meters with 14 seconds left in sudden-death, lifting the top-seeded Breakers to an epic 9-8 victory over the Sea Kings on Saturday night at Woollett Aquatics Center.

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It’s the fourth Division 1 title in six years for top-seeded Laguna Beach (29-1), which withstood a challenge from CdM (19-8). The Sea Kings were trying to upset the top three seeds in the division to claim their first title since 2013.

“This is the biggest goal I’ve ever scored in my entire life,” said Poljak, who sank the shot into the upper-right corner. “It was the most thrilling and the most fun, to do it with a group of girls that I would do anything for.

“Maya’s a great goalie. Maya’s always been a great goalie since we started water polo. Kudos to her; she had a great game. I don’t know how that went in … I was not expecting it. She was hogging one side, and that’s normally the side I shoot on. She had been blocking me all game, so I just tried to throw it the other way and it went in.”

Laguna Beach improved to 4-0 against CdM this season, with the four wins being decided by a combined five goals. The margins were perhaps smallest in the Division 1 final. On the Breakers’ first possession of sudden death, Poljak’s shot was field blocked by CdM’s Grace Myers and it went off the left goalpost.

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The possession before Poljak’s game-winner, CdM senior Sophie Wallace also hit the left goalpost on a shot.

Laguna Beach was able to find a way. Sophomore left-hander Emma Lineback led the way with three goals, all in the second half as the Breakers rallied from a 4-1 halftime deficit.

“You could just feel it in the girls, that they didn’t want to lose,” Breakers coach Ethan Damato said.

As usual, it was a well-balanced effort. Morgan Van Alphen, Claire Kelly, Molly Renner, Nicole Struss and Bryn Gioffredi each scored for the Breakers. Goalkeeper Quinn Winter made 13 saves.

“They’re an unbelievable group,” Damato said. “This has definitely been one of the most resilient groups I’ve ever coached. They find a way to win close games, and tonight was just another night of them finding a way. These girls love each other, man. They care so much, they’re so dedicated and I’m just really proud of them to finish the way we did.”

Carter Britt scored three goals for CdM. Wallace and Megan Peterson each scored twice, with senior center Layne Anzaldo adding a goal.

Ella Abbott added two assists and a field block for the Sea Kings, who came into the postseason ranked No. 6 in Division 1 but rallied to make their first finals appearance in six years.

“A couple of inches separated us from winning,” CdM coach Justin Papa said. “It’s never easy, but I think we left it all in the pool. I couldn’t be more proud of this group. We had our chances.”

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Poljak took advantage of her last one.

“We have confidence in her to take that shot,” Damato said. “I was stoked … It just says a lot about her to feel confident to take that shot in that situation, to see that lane and take it. I’m so proud of her.”

Both teams will compete in next weekend’s CIF Southern California Regionals tournament, which starts Friday. Damato said he planned to give the Breakers at least a couple of days off early next week.

At this point in the season, it was well-earned after delivering the program its sixth CIF championship overall.

“Coming into the game, we just talked a lot about staying positive and being ready for any sort of game,” said Kelly, one of five seniors on the team. “We knew that it could be any type of battle, especially because we knew they were super-hungry. I think everyone just played as a family and played together.”

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo


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