Laguna Beach High’s girls’ water polo team will finish the season on a win after all.
The preeminent powerhouse of Orange County girls’ water polo, the Breakers had won three of the last four CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo titles coming into the season.
Then in the section’s Division 1 playoffs, Laguna Beach was unceremoniously dismissed in the first round by Santa Barbara San Marcos. Although it was a rematch of the previous year’s final, the Breakers had beaten the Royals by a seven-goal margin just six days earlier.
With the addition of the CIF State Southern California girls’ water polo regionals, the Breakers were given a second chance, and they took full advantage.
Sophia Lucas scored four goals and Thea Walsh made nine saves, as Laguna Beach defeated Los Alamitos 11-6 in the Division II regional final on Saturday afternoon at Corona del Mar High.
“We talked a lot about how true character is defined in adversity, in loss, and not always in success,” Breakers coach Ethan Damato said. “I think these girls showed a lot of heart and a lot of character to come back against Los Al, another two days later against CdM [to earn fifth place in the section playoffs], and then to come here the way we played.
“Even today, we were down early in this game, and we showed a lot of heart and a lot of determination to come back. I’m really proud of the girls.”
Senior Isabel Riches also had a hat-trick for the Breakers (26-3). Freshman Molly Renner had two goals. Senior Evan Tingler had a goal and three assists, and senior Alex Peros scored a goal to go with three steals.
“I thought that we were playing at a really high level today,” Lucas said. “I thought that everyone was having fun. There were a lot of smiles. I love when I look around the pool and all my teammates are happy. It makes me happy, too. I’m glad we got to end on a positive note.”
The game featured two of the top field players in the game, as Lucas and Los Alamitos counterpart Bayley Weber are both headed to USC for women’s water polo next year.
Despite being on opposite teams, the relationship between Weber and many of the Breakers is anything but adversarial. Weber has played club with several of the Breakers growing up.
“We love Bayley,” Walsh said. “She’s an awesome person and an awesome player. Even during the game, she joked with me. She was like, ‘Oh, that ref let you off on that one goal that I made.’
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’”
Weber scored a game-high five goals for the Griffins (22-10).
Laguna Beach has produced a multitude of talent during its recent run. At times, the conclusion of each season has felt like the end of an era. Last year, it was Aria Fischer. This year, the Breakers say goodbye to a phenomenal goalkeeper.
The Stanford-bound Walsh said that it was a privilege to be a part of the Breakers’ program under Damato.
“It’s an honor playing for this program,” she said. “So many good players come through this program without other people knowing or recognizing them.”
The regional semifinals were held earlier in the day. Laguna Beach bested Orange Lutheran 9-3.
In the other semifinal, host Corona del Mar fell to Los Alamitos 9-7 in double overtime.
CdM led 7-5 with six minutes left on a goal by Grace Myers, but the Griffins came back with scores from Madison Ravelo and Weber with under two minutes to go.
The same tandem scored the goals for the Griffins in overtime, with Ravelo providing the eventual game-winner with eight seconds remaining in the first extra period.
“Beating CdM was a big win for our program, especially because of how great of a program CdM is,” Griffins coach Dave Carlson said. “It was a huge win for our program to get into some sort of CIF championship.”
Senior Chloe Harbilas had four goals in her final game for CdM (22-8). Myers had two goals, and Sophie Wallace provided the other.
“I thought that we battled super hard,” Sea Kings coach Justin Papa said. “We created a lot of good opportunities. Obviously, we want to finish those, but sometimes you don’t.”