Morgan Van Alphen is an avid movie-goer.
As neighbors, the Laguna Beach High water polo trio of Van Alphen, Thea Walsh (Stanford) and Molly Renner would head to the theaters just about every time they saw a new hit release come out.
Van Alphen has seen so many movies that she had trouble narrowing the list down to her favorite film.
“Anything by Nicholas Sparks,” she finally answered.
Sparks, a best-selling author, has swept his fan base away with a series of powerful love stories, some unlikely – like the pastor’s daughter and the rebellious teenager to make good in “A Walk to Remember.”
The theme of Sparks’ novels provides a transition into the improbable union of Van Alphen and water polo. She said she is the first in her family to take up the sport, and it came later than most.
Van Alphen played tennis and soccer growing up, but she felt that the time had come for a change when she got to middle school.
“A lot of girls in my grade played water polo, so I just thought that it would be something fun and cool to try out,” Van Alphen said. “I ended up falling in love with it and continuing to play it.”
Middle school was a late start. Van Alphen knew the girls in the pool, but many of her peers had been playing water polo since the age of 9. She caught up quickly.
“I definitely felt like there was a learning curve because all of them had been playing for so long, but because it was still at such a young age, I don’t think it took that long for me to kind of catch up to them,” she added.
Van Alphen has cemented herself in the rotation of the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 poll. She experienced her first splash of varsity water polo with a call up for the CIF playoffs during her freshman year.
The junior attacker demonstrated an ability to come through in the clutch moments against top-flight competition this past week. She registered a hat-trick in the Breakers’ 10-7 win against No. 6 Santa Barbara San Marcos on Dec. 14. Van Alphen came back with two goals on Dec. 15 as Laguna Beach (6-0) beat No. 2 Orange Lutheran 6-3.
“In that San Marcos game last week, we were struggling to find a group that could play well together,” Breakers coach Ethan Damato said. “We were down 6-3, and we were also struggling to score.
“Morgan came in and played really good defense. She had three goals, and I think we went on a 7-1 run. Morgan had three of those seven goals.”
San Marcos had knocked out Laguna Beach in the quarterfinals of the Division 1 playoffs last season. Damato and Van Alphen said that beating the Royals did not equate as much to redemption as it served to reaffirm the Breakers’ standing at the top of the sport.
“It was definitely really nice to put ourselves back in the position of number one and showing that…we deserve to be where we are right now,” Van Alphen said.
Given Laguna Beach’s place as a premier water polo program, a healthy mutual respect among players who are good enough to make the team would seem easy to achieve. The Breakers do not take anything for granted, though.
“Chemistry is something that you have to work for to have, both in the water and out of the water,” Damato said. “We work on that, I think, a lot as a team. I think that’s something that has been special for our program.”
So how did the Breakers go about tackling the issue of team chemistry?
Before the start of the season, the team went to Big Bear. The trip stamped out the possibility of cliques forming among the various grade levels, as a series of team competitions were carried out.
On each team, there was a senior, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman, at a minimum. The players designed T-shirts, which they then wore as their uniforms. Then they partook in a cupcake-making contest, played dodgeball, and competed in bowling and relay races.
Forming relationships with the entire team is valuable to Van Alphen, who added, “I think that something that is really important about our team is that as freshmen come in, nobody treats you any differently than the players that we have been playing with throughout the years.”
Morgan Van Alphen
Born: May 25, 2002
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 5 feet 8
Weight: 122 pounds
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Ethan Damato
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “Dear John”
Favorite athletic moment: Van Alphen’s club team won Junior Olympics at the 16-and-under level in a three-day tournament at Stanford. She plays for SET Water Polo.