For the past two years, the Laguna Beach High boys' water polo program has enjoyed life at the top. Winning Orange Coast League championships with ease and claiming back-to-back CIF Southern Section titles had been the program's MO.
The expectations for the 2012 Breakers are no different, despite moving up a division in CIF.
Ethan Damato, in his fifth year as head coach of the program, welcomes back six returning players from last year's title-winning squad. He rounds out this year's unit with five varsity newcomers, four of whom are sophomores.
Two of his returning players — seniors Camron Hauer, a four-year varsity player and the team's third leading scorer last year, and Riley Thomas, the Breakers' second-leading scorer in 2011 — were all-league and All-CIF a year ago. Two other returners, senior Caleb Scott and sophomore Jack Dodson, were second-team all-league selections.
There are major voids for Damato to fill. Gone to graduation are Nolan McConnell, the leading scorer in the program for the past four years and a two-time CIF Player of the Year in Division 3; Erik Henrikson, a captain and two-time All-CIF player who started in the goal the past four years; Samer Alkateb and Nicky Brunner, both two-time All-CIF players; and Tommy Renner, another team captain who was All-CIF.
"We lost a lot of guys who were a big part of our team for a long time," Damato said. "Some of them [were] four-year varsity starters. There are some big holes to fill, but I think we have a lot of guys here excited about creating their own identity in 2012. We are working hard and have a deep group of guys [who] we are really excited about it.
"This year's team has the ability to be a great team, a team that can beat you from a lot places. I think they have a chip on their shoulders and feel like they have something to prove. I agree with them, and I like the edge."
After spending the past two years — and winning consecutive titles — in Division 3, the Breakers move up this year to Division 2.
"We are really excited as a program for the challenge," Damato said of the division change. "It will be an extremely competitive division with seven or eight teams that could beat each other on any given day. It should make for a fun year."
League: Orange Coast
CIF Division: Division 2
Head coach: Ethan Damato (fifth year)
Coaching staff: Trevor Lyle (assistant coach, junior varsity coach); Adam Kaplan (assistant coach, frosh/soph coach); Chris Stansbury (strength coach).
2011 overall record: 25-6
2011 league finish: 5-0
2011 CIF results: Division 3 champion
Returning players: Camron Hauer (all-league, second team All-CIF, Sr.); Riley Thomas (all-league, first team All-CIF, Sr.); Caleb Scott (second team all-league, Sr.); Jack Dodson (second team all-league, Soph.); Maxx McCarter (goalie, Sr.); Duncan Lynde (Sr.).
Newcomers: Cade Baldridge (Soph.); Aki Andersen (Soph.); Trevor Collins (Jr.); Nolan Del Toro (Soph.); Connor Hauer (Soph.).
Coach's take: "With us moving up (divisions) this year, [so] it actually will be the first year in a couple where we don't have a target on our back," Damato said. "We will go into the season ranked No. 4 in Division 2, and the talk around pool decks is that we will be having a rebuilding year. We disagree. [We] have high expectations for ourselves as a group and will be looking to find a way to make a deep run in Division 2. We have a good group of seniors that will need to step up in order for us to be as good as we want to be."
Daunting start: The Breakers face a formidable nonleague slate. Of their 10 nonleague foes scheduled (not counting tournament play), seven enter the season ranked in the top 10 in either CIF Division 1 or 2.
"We have an absolutely brutal start to the season," said Damato, whose team will be tested in the first three weeks of the season. "We play the No. 1 (Agoura) and No. 3 (Foothill) teams in our division, and we play in two very tough tournaments (Santa Barbara, South Coast-Newport Harbor). We should know a lot about our team after those challenges."
Sept. 7: at Villa Park, 4 p.m.
Sept. 13: Agoura, TBA
Sept. 14-15: at Santa Barbara Tournament
Sept. 20-22: at South Coast-Newport Harbor Tournament
Sept. 26: *Saddleback, 3:15 p.m.
Sept. 29: Coronado, 1 p.m.
Oct. 3: *Sage Hill, 3:15 p.m.
Oct. 4: Dana Hills, 4 p.m.
Oct. 9: Foothill, 4 p.m.
Oct. 10: at *Estancia, 3:15 p.m.
Oct. 11: Murietta Valley, 4 p.m.
Oct. 17: *Godinez, 3:15 p.m.
Oct. 19: vs. Damien, 4 p.m. (Pomona Pitzer College)
Oct. 24: *Costa Mesa, 3:15 p.m.
Oct. 26-27: at Steve Pal Memorial Tournament
Oct. 30: at El Toro, 4 p.m.
Oct. 31: Aliso Niguel, 4 p.m.
(*denotes league game)