The first time the Laguna Beach and Newport Harbor girls' water polo teams met this season, the matchup had the feeling of a postseason game.
It did come during an important event, the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions on Jan. 13, and the teams needed an overtime session to determine the winner, with Newport emerging with a 7-6 come-from-behind victory.
The game reflected the parity of the teams that have dominated the top-10 poll this year in CIF Division 1. At 3:15 p.m. Friday at Newport, the teams meet again in a nonleague game that comes less than a week before the Irvine SoCal Championship Tournament, the final tournament of the regular season.
It might not be the last meeting between the teams, either.
"We played very well last time we met, but we were unable to pull off the win," Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. "I think we saw our mistakes and we feel like we can give them a great game. They are a very good team, but so are we. Our girls will be prepared and they know we will have to make more plays than them to win.
"With all of these teams so close (in CIF Division 1), it really comes down to who put their chances away and who makes stops at the end of the game."
In the overtime game Jan. 13, Laguna held a 3-0 halftime lead on Newport, but the Sailors rallied in the second half to get the win. Since then, the Sailors (14-4) have assumed first place in the Sunset League and come into Friday's game ranked second in CIF. Their last loss was a 10-8 setback in the Jan. 14 final of the Santa Barbara tournament.
Laguna (15-4), the leader of the Orange Coast League, is ranked sixth in CIF.
Friday's match at Newport is the first for Laguna in a week. In their last outing, the Breakers also suffered a one-goal loss to another highly ranked Division 1 team, Foothill. They fell, 12-11, to the fourth-ranked Knights (17-3). Yoshi Andersen, Melena Masson and Lexie Del Toro each scored three goals to lead the way for the Breakers.
"I though the girls came out extremely excited and really went for it," Damato said. "We made a lot of great plays and jumped out to an early lead in the first half. With any big game comes a lot of nerves and we let them get the best of us and simply made too many mistakes on both ends to win that game. With that said, we were up 11-10 with 1 1/2 minutes left but were unable to hold on, so we had our chances. Giving up 12 goals is way too many.
"We have to play better defense if we want to win these games and we know that. That is our third loss by one goal this season. I think we are learning valuable lessons from these losses and as a team we are confident we can beat anyone."
Laguna returns to Orange Coast League play Wednesday. The Breakers take on Godinez at 6 p.m. at Santa Ana Valley High. They start play Thursday at the Irvine SoCal Championships tournament. The Breakers are one of 32 teams in the tournament and will play their games at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine.
The Breakers posted two victories and a tie in recent Orange Coast League action to remain unbeaten in league play and run their unbeaten streak to nine.
On Tuesday, Laguna held off defensive-minded Saddleback, 1-0, despite enjoying a 14-3 shots on goal advantage over the host Roadrunners. In the 70th minute, junior forward Melissa Chapman was fouled in the Saddleback penalty area and senior midfielder Marina Paul converted the penalty kick for the game's lone score.
"We struggle offensively but continued to press at the Saddleback goal," Laguna Coach Bill Rolfing said. "Chapman's run at the goal was heroic and drew the deciding foul."
Rolfing said that freshman Amy Hewlett continued to "shine" as a deep defender. Freshman keeper Kylie George has allowed just four goals in Laguna's last night matches.
The Breakers showed no such signs of offensive struggles when they took on Costa Mesa on Jan. 20. They scored three goals in each half and dominated the visiting Mustangs, 6-0. Paul and senior midfielder April Carlson both scored twice and Chapman and freshman midfielder Audrey Pillsbury both scored once.
The tie came against Godinez, a 1-1 standstill Jan. 17 at Centennial Park in Santa Ana. Paul scored on an individual run through the midfield and shot from 15 yards out for the Laguna goal.
The three results put Laguna at 3-0-2 in league and 7-5-4 overall.
The Breakers next week have league games against Estancia and Costa Mesa. They'll face the Eagles at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday and take on Costa Mesa at 5 p.m. Thursday. Both matches are at Estancia's Jim Scott Stadium.
The Breakers saw their Orange Coast League record fall to 1-3-1 Wednesday after dropping a 5-1 home match to league-leading Saddleback. Midfielder Pearce Neal scored in the first half for Laguna, which is 5-4-3 overall.
A late scoring rush by the Roadrunners gave them a 3-1 halftime advantage.
"We really didn't get going in this game and Saddleback thoroughly deserved their convincing win," Laguna Coach Daniel Richards said. "We found it impossible to get any sort of rhythm in the game and didn't adapt well to the playing conditions."
"Conceding two goals in the last two minutes of the first half really deflated the boys after managing to level the game up after going one behind."
Laguna starts the second half of league play at 6:30 p.m. Friday, hosting Calvary Chapel at Guyer Field. Next week, the Breakers play a 4:45 game Wednesday at Estancia. They'll also play Costa Mesa at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at Estancia High.
"The team knows they can do a lot better and that this (Saddleback) was just one of those games," Richards said. "Our main concern now is to get back on track with a win on Friday so we can start working our way up the league table again."