LAGUNA BEACH – You might say the Laguna Beach High boys' water polo team made a statement Tuesday.
What made the Breakers’ statement impressive was that it was straightforward and emphatic.
The Breakers sent a message to the rest of CIF Southern Section Division III: it you want to win the 2011 division title, you'll have to go through the defending champions.
Top-ranked Laguna fended off its latest challenge Tuesday as it took control of second-ranked Damien from start to finish, and polished off the Spartans, 10-5, at the Laguna pool.
Five days ago, the Breakers punished fourth-ranked Palos Verdes, 21-9. A week ago, they rallied to force overtime and defeated sixth-ranked La Canada, 14-11.
Laguna has not lost to a Division III team this year. Tuesday's showdown also was a rematch of last year's division title game won by the Breakers.
"I think our guys have answered the bell every time this year," Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. "Our guys played a great game today, especially on defense. I thought our defensive effort was outstanding. I think if we played better offense in the first half, we could have put the game away. Still, it was a real nice effort."
The Breakers (15-4) never trailed against Damien. Senior captain Nolan McConnell slung a sideways shot for the first score less than two minutes into the game. Damien came back to tie the score, 1-1, when Austin Miller scored with 1:52 left in the first quarter but then the Breakers went on a 2-0 run to close out the quarter. Another goal by McConnell and a no-look shot by Riley Thomas with one second left, gave Laguna a 3-1 lead.
The Breakers scored in two, man-up situations early in the second quarter to further take control. McConnell's scored first on a soft lob and Samer Alkateb scored from the hole, to push the lead to 5-1. A sharp pass by McConnell with 3:54 left in the half set up a score by Thomas, and the Breakers' lead suddenly grew to 6-1.
Thomas posted his second goal when he scored to beat the shot clock with under two minutes left to give Laguna a 7-2 lead at the break.
"I was really pleased with the way our guys responded after the score was tied 1-1," Damato said. "We went on a scoring run after that and I think it's a great testament to our guys who have been playing at a high level in almost every divisional game we've played."
Erik Henrikson's strong play in the cage helped Laguna stake its early advantage. The senior, who was named Laguna's homecoming king during halftime ceremonies of last Friday's Estancia-Laguna football game, had six saves in the opening half. He turned away the first three shot attempts by Damien in the second half to help protect Laguna's 7-2 lead. He finished with 14 saves and came up with three steals.
"Erik played a great game," Damato said. "So did Nolan (McConnell). He was a beast out there today, just like he was last week against Palos Verdes. He scored eight goals and had eight assists in that one."
The Spartans were able to pull within 7-4 behind two goals from Miller midway through the third quarter but just as they had done at the end of the first quarter, the Breakers scored the final two goals of the quarter to carry a 9-4 lead into the fourth quarter. A goal by Jack Dodson with 3:09 to play put the Breakers on top, 10-4.
Dodson, Alkateb and Caleb Scott each scored once. Alkateb also had two saves and two steals, Scott had one assist and a steal and Nicky Brunner had an assist. McConnell led all scorers with four goals and picked up a pair of assists. Thomas finished with three goals.
Laguna, which is undefeated at home, returns to Orange Coast League play Wednesday, playing host to Costa Mesa at 3:15 p.m. The Breakers travel north Thursday to compete at the invite-only North-South Challenge. The invitational runs Friday and Saturday.
"We're really excited to be playing in that tournament," Damato said. "It's so great that our program was invited and it's a real honor to be playing in the tournament. It'll be a great bonding experience for our guys and get us ready for the playoffs."
Damato said the Breakers open the tournament Friday against Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton.