For the Laguna Beach girls' water polo team, it's time to step it up.
A year after finishing runner-up in CIF Southern Section Division 2, the Breakers have moved up a division. Starting this week, they'll be among the teams vying for big things in Division 1.
Despite its new grouping, Laguna figures to be a major player in the division.
"Being in Division 1 is going to be a tremendous challenge for our program to see if we can make another great CIF run and maintain our success," said Laguna Coach Ethan Damato, who last month guided the boys' team to a CIF Division 3 championship. "I look forward to [the] challenge and so does our team."
With nine players returning from last year's 24-7 squad, one that was edged (6-5) by Palos Verdes (also new to Division 1) in the Division 2 championship game, the Breakers have the talent and experience to turn in another outstanding season.
Laguna opens it season Tuesday at Mater Dei.
The Breakers begin their campaign with a No. 6 preseason Division 1 ranking.
"We have a great nucleus returning from last year's CIF runner-up team," said Damato, whose coaching staff includes Trevor Lyle, Trevor Frimond and Angelina Moore. "Many of our older players have been playing on varsity their entire high school career and playing together since they were 9 or 10. They have great chemistry in and out of the water.
"Our young players have worked very hard in the offseason and should add some much need depth to our team, especially with us moving to Division 1 this year. I'm very excited to see how we come together and compete with the big schools."
The nine returning varsity players from last years undefeated Orange Coast League championship team are:
•Etianne Manetta (goalie, Sr.), a first-year All-Orange Coast League, second-team All-CIF and three-year varsity member who Damato said is "one of the top goalies in the county."
•Riley Duncan (attacker, Sr.), who was second-team all-league.
•Jessie Holechek (utility, Sr.), a first-team all-league, first-team all-CIF, second-team All-Southern California, third-team All-American and team captain who Damato said was last year's team co-MVP and led the Breakers in three categories (scoring, assists, steals).
•Jessica Shusko (defender, Sr.), a first-team all-league, first-team All-CIF, third-team All-Southern California and another team captain who was last year's defensive player of the year.
•Yoshi Andersen (attacker, Sr.), a first-team all-league, second-team All-CIF, three-year starter who Damato called "our most dangerous and fastest attacker.",
•Lexie del Toro (attacker, Soph.), a second-team all-league player who started halfway through her freshman year and who Damato predicts "will do big things for us."
•Melena Masson (utility, Jr.), a second-team all-league player who Damato said was one of the team's "top players last year but missed half the season due to illness. "Our most well-rounded player who will be one of our top scorers and defenders this year," he said.
•Alia Manetta (attacker, Soph.) who will "see a lot of minutes," Damato said.
•Lida DeGroote (attacker, Sr.), a "three-year varsity player," Damato said.
Duncan, Holechek, Shusko, Andersen, del Toro, Masson and Etianne Manetta all started last year.
Sydney Saxe (center, Soph.) and Mackenzie Baldridge (left-handed attacker, Soph.) also have varsity experience but "didn't see much playing time last year," Damato said.
"Sydney this year will be a big part of our attack," he said. "She has great size, speed and work ethic. Mackenzie is crafty, smart and a hard-working player that will see minutes as a sophomore.
"We are a very smart and experienced team. We play great team defense and have really good speed. We will need a couple girls to step up into bigger roles this year, and I think they will."
Girls' Water Polo Schedule
Tuesday: at Mater Dei, 4:15 p.m.
Dec. 14: Edison, 3:15 p.m.
Dec. 16: Fountain Valley, 3:15 p.m.
Dec. 18: vs. Agoura, 12 p.m., (at Cal Lutheran University)
Dec. 22: San Clemente, 3:15 p.m.
Dec. 30-21: at Newport Harbor Holiday Cup
Jan. 5:: at Corona del Mar, 4:15 p.m.
Jan. 12: *Estancia, TBA, (at Costa Mesa High)
Jan. 13: at Dos Pueblos, 6 p.m.
Jan. 14-15: at Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions
Jan. 21: at Foothill, 3:15 p.m.
Jan. 26: *Godinez, 3:15 p.m.
Jan. 28: Palos Verdes, 3:15 p.m.
Feb. 2: *at Costa Mesa, 3:15 p.m.
Feb. 3-5: at Irvine SoCal Championships
Feb. 9: *Saddleback
Feb. 11: Santiago, 3:15 p.m.
(* denotes Orange Coast League game)