LAGUNA BEACH — Things couldn't have come off any better than they did Wednesday for the Laguna Beach girls' water polo team as it ventured into the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs for the first time.
The Breakers hosted Irvine in a first-round match-up and left little doubt as to which was the dominant team in the pool. Putting together a quick start and displaying a tenacious defense, which has become its trademark in the past month, Laguna scored early and often and rolled to an 18-3 victory.
No. 5-seeded Laguna (21-7) plays No. 3 Newport Harbor Friday. The quarterfinal round game starts at 4:15 p.m. at the Laguna pool, Breakers Coach Ethan Damato said.
Newport Harbor moved on after handling visiting Villa Park, 12-1, in another first-round game Wednesday.
Damato, who guided the Laguna boys' team to a CIF championship in November, had plenty to be pleased with Wednesday.
"I thought we did a great job of taking it to them right away," he said. "By scoring those two quick goals, we took away the chance for them to take any kind of momentum at the start. It was nice to see us come out and hit some big shots right away."
Laguna won the opening sprint and scored on a set play moments later. The Breakers scored on their first two possessions and went on to grab a 6-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. They continued their hot shooting and overpowering defense in the second quarter to go up, 11-1, at the half.
"Irvine's a good team that does a lot of moving around but our girls did a really great job on the defensive end," Damato said. "We're really, really tough to score on right now and we're at the point where we are playing incredible team defense. Everyone contributes to it, in some way. It's awesome to see."
Laguna's balance at both ends of the pool was evident in the scorebook. Jessie Holechek scored a game-high six goals and added two assists and two steals to her performance. Melena Masson scored five times and came up with six steals and Jessica Shusko registered five steals to go along with a goal and pair of assists. Yoshi Andersen scored three goals with two assists and two steals and Edy Manetta had six saves and a steal. Mackenzie Baldridge and Lexie del Toro each had a goal and steal, Lida DeGroote had a goal and assist, Riley Duncan had two assists and two steals and Sydney Saxe had two steals.
Laguna and Newport Harbor will meet Friday for the first time this season. Damato said that the Breakers have played every other team in the Division 1 top 10 except the Sailors.
"They are a well-coached and disciplined team," he said. "I think (Bill) Barnett is a legend and one of the best coaches in the country. We'll need to play our A-game Friday and if we play our standard defense, then I feel we have a great shot.
"I just think we're coming together as a team right now on a lot of levels. We've played a lot of tough teams and have lost some tough games but this team doesn't seem to get too high, or too low, with any of it. They have a great balance. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to put ourselves in the quarterfinals. The girls have done an excellent job of getting to this point of the season."
The Division I semifinals are Wednesday at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine.
Laguna tuned up for the postseason by playing Santiago of Corona last Friday in a nonleague game. The host Breakers opened up a 4-1 lead after the first quarter, extended their advantage to 7-1 through three quarters and went on to post a 10-3 victory in their final regular season game. Andersen led Laguna in scoring with three goals and Masson and Alia Manetta both scored twice. Edy Manetta had seven saves.