The Laguna Beach boys’ water polo team donned a new look entering the most important week of the 2011 season.
Sporting mohawks, the cutting-edge move united the top-ranked Breakers, who went out Wednesday and mowed down No. 4-seed La Cañada, 14-5, in a CIF Southern Section Division 3 semifinal game at the William Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.
The one-sided victory allows Laguna (21-5) to reach the Division 3 title game for a second straight year. The 11:45 a.m. championship match Saturday is a rematch of the 2010 division final, as the Breakers take on No. 2-seed Damien at the William Woollett Aquatics Center.
Damien edged Palos Verdes, 10-8, in the first of two Division 3 semifinals Wednesday.
“We are really excited to be in the final again,” said Laguna Coach Ethan Damato, who last year guided the Breakers to an 11-9 win over Damien to give the program its first Southern Section championship. “It feels great. Back-to-back years...I love it. I wouldn’t ask for anyone else (Damien) to play in the finals.”
Laguna dominated a La Cañada squad (19-7) that won the Rio Hondo League championship and posted postseason wins over Santa Monica and Aliso Niguel to reach the semifinals. The Breakers led from start to finish and routed the Spartans, who just last month nearly scored a nonleague win over the Breakers at the Laguna pool.
There was no-such drama Wednesday.
“It was so much different than the last time we played them,” Damato said of a 14-11 overtime victory the Breakers snatched from defeat against the Spartans on Oct. 11. “It was nice to have No. 11 (Nolan McConnell) in the water for this one. He was awesome out there and our defense was lights out.”
McConnell sat out the Oct. 11 game but made his presence felt from the get-go Wednesday. The senior utility player powered in the game’s first goal less than a minute into the match and went on to finish with a game-high five goals. McConnell added two assists and three steals.
McConnell’s offensive prowess was evident throughout the match. Sharing the spotlight was a Laguna defense, led by senior Erik Henrikson’s 17 saves in the cage, that was nothing short of outstanding. La Canada scored two of its five goals on six-on-five advantages and a third score came on a five-meter penalty shot.
“That was our focus all week,” Damato said of his team’s dominating defensive effort. “I think we spent about 15 minutes on offense in two practices this week. The rest of the time we spent on defense and working on our counter-attack. It really paid off. I thought our defense was amazing today.”
In addition to McConnell’s five goals and three from Caleb Scott, Nicky Brunner and Riley Thomas each scored twice and Tommy Renner and Camron Hauer both scored once.
Laguna and Damien met in nonleague play at the Laguna pool on Oct. 18. The Breakers led from start to finish in a 10-5 victory.
The teams have been ranked first and second in Division 3 throughout the season.
“It’s unreal to be going back to the finals and playing the team we played last year,” Henrikson said. “We are excited for the opportunity and we’ll be fired-up on Saturday.”
Laguna players went out Sunday and got the mohawk haircuts, Henrikson said.
“The seniors started talking about it and then everyone jumped in on it,” he said. “Our original idea was to get a mullet-type of mohawk and what we got is sort of on the longer side.
“It kind of brought us together as a team. It kind of said that we are here to play. We were noticed at school and I think our fans like the look.”
Damato had other thoughts.
“It wasn’t my favorite thing for them to do, but it was all them and it brought them together as a team,” he said. “That’s what’s important.”