Last November, the Laguna Beach High boys' water polo program reached new heights by winning the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship.
This fall, the Breakers figure to be strong contenders for another.
Laguna returns six players from last year's team that culminated a 26-7 season with a victory over Damien in the CIF Division 3 title game. Among the returnees is senior Nolan McConnell, who last year was Most Valuable Player of the Orange Coast League and CIF Division 3.
Other key returners are seniors Erik Henrikson, Nicky Brunner and Samer Alkateb and juniors Camron Hauer and Tommy Renner.
McConnell and Henrikson both are about to start their fourth year on varsity.
In addition to last year's returning standouts, the Breakers also received good news when Junior Riley Thomas, an all-league selection at Woodbridge High last season, transferred into the program.
"We are very excited about what Riley can bring to our team," Damato said. "He is an explosive attacker with a great outside shot and an uncanny abulity to score from anywhere in the pool. During the summer, he was our leading scorer and at times our best player. He has fit in well with the rest of the team and will no doubt help us compete for another CIF Championship."
The missing pieces from last year's team are attackers Spencer Dodson and Jack Clark and center Tyler Mancusso. Dodson, a 2010 co-captain and first-team All-CIF, is now at UC Irvine. Clark, another co-captain who also made All-CIF, is at MIT and Mancusso, a second-team All-CIF selection last year, is at Iona College.
"This year we return a lot of experienced players from last year's CIF championship team, and as a group we have very high expectations for the season," Laguna Beach Coach Ethan Damato said. "I think we have the potential to be a top Orange County team and a contender for a CIF Championship."
Laguna opens practice for the fall season Monday. The Breakers' first regular-season game is Sept. 9 (4 p.m.) at home against Villa Park. A rematch of the 2010 Division 3 title game has Damien visiting Laguna on Oct. 18.
2011 Laguna Beach boys' water polo
Head coach: Ethan Damato (fifth year)
Coaching staff: Trevor Lyle, Trevor Frimond, Mary Cousineau
2010 record: 26-7
2010 league finish: 5-0 (first)
2010 CIF results: Won CIF Division 3 championship.
Returning players: Nolan McConnell (utility, Sr.; MVP Orange Coast League, MVP CIF Division 3); Erik Henrikson (goalie, Sr.; first-team all-league, first-team All-CIF); Nicky Brunner (attacker, Sr.; first-team all-league, second-team All-CIF; Samer Alkateb (defender/center, Sr.; first-team all-league, third-team All-CIF); Camron Hauer (attacker, Jr.; second-team all-league); Tommy Renner (attacker, Jr.; second-team all-league).
Varsity newcomers: Caleb Scott (attacker, Jr; captain and MVP of 2010 league champion frosh/soph team); Jack Dodson (attacker, Fr.). Riley Thomas (attacker; Jr.; all-league in 2010 at Woodbridge High).
Coach's comments: "Some of these guys have been playing together since they were 10, 11 years old and have developed great chemistry over the years," Damato said. "We are excited about the growth of some of role players from last year and expect them to step up and do a great job. Our challenge this year will be executing better on our 6-on-5 and half-court offense. That was an area that hurt us last year and this summer. We will be working hard to get better and I have no doubt we will get to where we need to be. "
Sept. 9: Villa Park (4 p.m.)
Sept. 20: Mira Costa (4 p.m.)
Sept. 22-24: South Coast-Newport Harbor tournament (TBA)
Sept. 27: El Segundo (4 p.m.)
Sept. 28: *Sage Hill (TBA, at Costa Mesa High)
Oct. 4: at Dana Hills (4 p.m.)
Oct. 5: *Estancia (3:15 p.m.)
Oct. 11: La Canada (4 p.m.)
Oct. 12: at *Godinez (3:15 p.m.)
Oct. 14: Palos Verdes (4 p.m.)
Oct. 18: Damien (4 p.m.)
Oct. 19: *Costa Mesa (3:15 p.m.)
Oct. 21-22: North-South Challenge (TBA, at Northern California)
Oct. 26: *Saddleback (3:15 p.m.)
Nov. 2: at Aliso Niguel (4 p.m.)
Nov. 4: vs. Agoura (TBA, at Costa Mesa High)
* denotes Orange Coast League game