Before the Laguna Beach girls' water polo team headed to Santa Barbara last week for the Tournament of Champions, Breakers Coach Ethan Damato said his squad was eying a top-four finish in the prestigious, 16-team event featuring several of the southland's top-rated teams.
Laguna came close but ended up coming home with a sixth-place finish after falling for the third time this season to Corona del Mar in the fifth-place game Saturday.
Laguna, ranked sixth in CIF Division 1, went 2-2 in the tournament, defeating Edison for a second time this season, 12-7 last Friday, and San Clemente, 15-2, on Saturday. The losses were to eventual tournament runner-up Santa Barbara (8-5) last Friday and CdM (6-4).
The Breakers' Melena Masson, who had five goals and five steals in the win over Edison, was named to the all-tournament team. The junior finished the tournament with seven goals, 10 steals and two assists.
"We were disappointed Friday night with how we played in the quarters against Santa Barbara," Damato said. "We did not play well. With that said, Santa Barbara played very well and was a little bit quicker and sharper than we were. They are a good team. The next morning we bounced back and beat San Clemente and played maybe our best game of the season. In the afternoon game we played CdM for the third time in three weeks and lost in another close battle where we just couldn't put our shots away.
"Overall, it was a great weekend and showed us what we need to do moving forward to improve."
Damato said he was impressed with the way his Breakers bounced back from Friday's disappointing loss to Santa Barbara — a team the Breakers defeated, 5-4 on Dec. 30 at the Holiday Cup — to handle San Clemente in their next outing Saturday.
"The San Clemente game was a great example of how well we played defensively," he said. "The score was 9-0 at halftime. Our defense sparked the counter attack and opened things up for our shooters. Jessie Holechek and Yoshi Andersen were looking to attack from the opening whistle and scored 11 goals between the two of them, all of those coming in three quarters of play. That game was a great example of the maturity on this team and their ability to bounce back after a tough loss.
"As a team, we need to execute better down the stretch of games and focus on committing to our counter attack. Against the better teams, we are settling for too many bad shots. Our defense all weekend was exceptional and gave us a chance to win every game. Our defenders, Jessica Shusko and Melena Masson, have been doing a great job of defending two-meters and Edy (Manetta) has been solid each game in the cage. All of our girls are playing great help defense and really working hard on that end as a unit."
The Breakers prepped for the tournament by taking on top-ranked Dos Pueblos and battled the undefeated Chargers before falling, 10-8. Masson led Laguna with three goals and Manetta had six saves and two steals.
Dos Pueblos went on to defeat rival Santa Barbara two days later in the Tournament of Champions final Saturday.
"Dos Pueblos is really good," Damato said. "They play at a speed that we had yet to see this season. I was very proud with the way our girls came out to play in the first quarter. At one point we led, 3-2, which gave us confidence that we could play with them. In the third quarter we were down, 7-5, and we had the choice to either roll over and let them run away with it or stay and battle for every inch, and that's what we did. We tied the game in the third (7-7) and had some great chances in the fourth.
"Overall, it was a great measuring point for our girls as to what we need to do if we want beat them in the playoffs."
Laguna returns to competition today with another key nonleague game. They're on the road to face seventh-ranked Foothill at 4 p.m. The teams previously met Dec. 31 at the Holiday Cup, where Laguna came away with a 9-8 victory.
The Knights also competed last weekend at the Tournament of Champions and finished in ninth place.
"Foothill is a very well-coached team," Damato said. "They are young and talented and can beat anyone on any given day. They gave us a very tough game at the Holiday Cup and we will be expecting another tough game."
Laguna resumes to Orange Coast League play Wednesday with a 3:15 p.m. home game against Godinez.