The start to the 2010-11 season is a challenging one for the Laguna Beach girls' water polo team.
The Breakers start off with a slate that offers up Mater Dei, Edison, Fountain Valley and Agoura — teams that, like Laguna itself, hold lofty preseason rankings — in the first 12 days of the season.
Laguna cleared its first hurdle of the season Tuesday by defeating Mater Dei, 12-9.
The match pitted a Laguna team ranked No. 6 in CIF Division 1, against a Monarchs team ranked fifth in Division 2.
Senior attacker Yoshi Andersen powered her way for a game-high six goals and junior utility Melena Masson added three goals for the Breakers. Single goals were scored by senior defender Jessica Shusko, senior utility Jessie Holechek and sophomore attacker Lexie del Toro.
Goalie Etianne Manetta had eight saves and a steal.
"Mater Dei is a very good team and a very good program, so anytime you beat them it's a good win," Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. "They played very hard and challenged us at each end of the pool.
"I thought we controlled the tempo of the game, limited their opportunities and we were able to get good shots each trip down the pool. In the end, we saw some areas that we need to improve on and I'm confident that we will."
Next week, Laguna goes up against Sunset League teams Edison and Fountain Valley which are ranked eighth and 10th, respectively, in the Division 1 poll.
The Breakers host Edison at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday and Fountain Valley at 3:15 p.m. Thursday.
They'll play Agoura, the top-ranked team in Division 2, Dec. 18 at Cal Lutheran University.
"We are looking forward to the Edison game next week," Damato said. "Every year we have a great game with them and I'm expecting that this year will be more of the same. Being that we are now in the same division, I think both teams will be a little extra excited. Should be fun.
"Fountain Valley will be another great Division 1 match up for us and another opportunity to learn about ourselves and improve."
Laguna played host San Juan Hills to a scoreless tie in nonleague play Dec. 3, two days after the Breakers opened the season with a 4-1 win at Sage Hill.
"I was extremely proud of the boys for giving a very mature and controlled performance," Laguna Coach Dan Richards said. "In the build-up to the game, we worked a lot in training on our defensive shape and they showed great maturity throughout the encounter.
"Along with the strong defensive performance, we created some excellent opportunities in the final third (of the game) and with a little more composure in front of goal, would have won the game. The team has already shown a lot of growth and the entire coaching staff is extremely happy with their progression."
Laguna doesn't play again until it opens its home schedule with a Dec. 17 nonleague game against Dana Hills at Guyer Field.
Coach Bill Rolfing's Breakers have a "new look," he said, for the 2010-11 season.
Gone is a core group of players who anchored the varsity for the last three years. This season, nine players, including five who started a year ago, are back to lead the way. A 24-player roster includes an influx of six freshmen and one sophomore new to the varsity ranks.
Rolfing and assistant coach Amanda Sylvia have been working on building team camaraderie.
"Our goals have been to work on getting that team chemistry down and working hard to build a solid defense," he said. "We have a lot of new faces but also a pretty deep squad and a strong returning group of starters.
"We're excited about the young core of girls who have worked hard through tryouts and the fall and who have really been embraced by the veterans. It's an exciting time for us right now."
Returning players are: Jenny Maddocks (midfielder, Sr.), Ally Manfrini (midfielder, Sr.), Marina Paul (midfielder, Jr.), Kelsey Rustigian (midfielder, Sr.), Sarah Hewlett (center-defense, Soph.), Ryan Bakkum (goalie, Sr.), April Carlson (forward, Jr.), Melissa Chapman (forward, Soph.) and Christa French (right-defense, Sr.).
Laguna scrimmaged Tesoro on Nov. 23 and officially opened its season Dec. 2 at San Juan Hills. The Breakers used a second-half goal by freshman midfielder Johana Abarca, who scored on a follow shot off an attempt by senior forward Sophie Shane, to rally for a 1-1 tie with the host Stallions.
Laguna is competing at the Ocean View Holiday Tournament, which continues today and Saturday and concludes Monday. The Breakers play two tournament games Saturday, first at 9:10 a.m. against Garden Grove at Ocean View High, followed by a 3 p.m. game with Brea Olinda at Huntington Beach High.
In their tournament opener Dec. 4, the Breakers fell, 2-1, to Huntington Beach, getting their goal on a second-half score by Chapman. On Monday, Laguna and Fullerton fought to a scoreless tie.