The Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team has had incredible depth this season.
Coach Ethan Damato typically is able to make wholesale substitutions depending on the game situation. Nine different players have scored double-digit goal totals, including five sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.
Sophomore Molly Renner leads the way with 41 goals, a relatively low number on a team full of threats.
“It’s really amazing to watch,” senior goalkeeper Quinn Winter said. “In the games, it doesn’t matter what age you are or what grade you’re in, you’re getting minutes. It’s really cool to see how much talent we have on one team.”
Winter is actually the one who provides continuity for the Breakers (26-1), the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2. She has started all 27 of her team’s matches.
She is the latest in a line of successful goalkeepers for Laguna Beach. Holly Parker, who graduated in 2016, went on to play at USC. Thea Walsh, a two-year starter who was last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year, now competes for Stanford.
Winter is headed to UCLA. First, she hopes to help lead the Breakers to the Division 1 title.
The results in the regular season were encouraging for both Winter and the team. She earned Most Outstanding Goalie honors last weekend at the Irvine Southern California Championships tournament, helping the Breakers win it for the fifth time in six years.
Winter made 48 saves in five tournament matches. That included a season-high 15 saves in a 7-6 tournament semifinal win over Goleta Dos Pueblos on Jan. 26. Later that day, she made seven saves in an 8-7 victory over Orange Lutheran in the tournament title match.
The save total in the final was not overly impressive, but they came at big moments, none bigger than a block on the Lancers’ Brooke Hourigan in front of the goal right before the final whistle. Hourigan got the ball after a Laguna Beach offensive foul and appeared ready to score, but Winter made the save with her left hand and the ball caromed off the right post.
“She doesn’t always have the [big saves totals], but she comes up big in the biggest moments for us,” Damato said. “That was obviously a huge moment for us, but there were a lot of them. She had a five-on-six save in the fourth quarter, and she had a five-on-six save in the third quarter. I thought she was great.”
Greatness did not happen overnight for Winter. She actually was a bit of a late bloomer in the sport, as she didn’t start until she was in the seventh grade. Winter and her good friend Evie Laptin, a teammate bound for UC Santa Barbara, started together after switching from soccer.
Even then, Winter didn’t play goalkeeper right away. At the time, Cici Stewart, another senior field player headed to Princeton, played that position.
“She didn’t like goalie as much, and my coach at the time, Rob Grayeli, threw me into the goal one day,” Winter said. “I really liked it, and ever since then it just stuck.”
Winter played as Laguna Beach’s junior varsity goalkeeper in her freshman and sophomore seasons, then spent her junior year as Walsh’s backup. Her talent was always evident, though.
Last summer, Winter earned tournament MVP honors after helping the SET 16-and-under girls win gold at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. Winter was able to play down on the 16-and-under team because she’s young for her grade, as she won’t turn 18 until late August.
Nine other Laguna Beach varsity players — Nicole Struss, Rachael Carver, Molly Renner, Morgan Van Alphen, Grace Houlahan, Emma Singer, Jessie Rose, Emma Lineback, and Kenedy Corlett — were also on the gold-medal roster for Junior Olympics. Of the 10 players, Winter is the only current senior.
“I think it’s been helpful being younger for my grade,” Winter said. “It’s my choice to ply down and get to play the whole game, or play with my age group up and split time with another goalie. I think playing down and playing the whole game has given me experience that’s been really helpful.”
That experience has led her to a big senior season. Unlike Parker and Walsh, she has spent just one year starting on varsity. But her growth has been evident, and she’s ready for the playoffs to start next week. The Breakers will be going for their fourth Division 1 title in six years.
“Any team can beat anybody,” Winter said. “There’s been a lot of upsets this year, but I’m pretty confident with how our team is doing. I’m pretty confident with the skill and desire to win that we all have, and the positive energy that every girl on this team gives. The coaches give so much support. I think we’re all ready to go and show that we deserve to win this.”
Born: Aug. 28, 2001
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 5 feet 10
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Ethan Damato
Favorite food: Mexican food
Favorite movie: “Elf”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping the SET 16-and-under girls win gold at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics last summer.