When the 2012-13 girls' water polo season gets underway next week, the Laguna Beach High Breakers are starting out in a position that they want to hold on to when the season comes to an end: No. 1.
That ranking matches expectations, as the Breakers are a talent-laden team that features an All-American, Junior Olympics All-Americans, All-CIF and all-league players.
"This is one of the most talented and experienced teams we have had at Laguna Beach High, ever," Coach Ethan Damato said. "What's funny about that, is we only have two seniors but most of these girls have been on top-ranked club teams their whole careers, as well as ODP (Olympic Development Program) and national teams.
"We are very deep and really fast. We also have a great group of girls out of the water that care about each other. It will be a fun team to coach. I'm really excited."
The Breakers started and played several freshmen and sophomores on a team that last winter finished among the top six in every tournament it entered, won another Orange Coast League title, and beat Dos Pueblos in the postseason to reach the quarterfinal round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. The Breakers only left the postseason after dropping a tough, overtime quarterfinal round battle to a Newport Harbor team that finished runner-up to the Division 1 title.
The Breakers and Sailors could meet in the Newport Harbor Holiday Cup the first week of January, and also have a scheduled nonleague game Jan. 24 at Newport.
In addition to a talented group of returning players, Laguna has three transfer players on its roster: Cara Borkovec (Fenwick, Ill.), Taylor Julson (El Toro High), and Mia Salvini (Mater Dei). Damato said that both Borkovec and Julson will be eligible to start the season, and Salvini won't be available until mid-January.
As for that top-ranking to begin the season, Damato, who also serves as the USA Water Polo Youth National Team Assistant Coach, and head coach for the ODP Southern Pacific Zone 12th-Grade-and-Under Team, says it's based on returning starters, incoming freshman, transfers, and the Breakers' success during summer and fall play.
"Right now, it means nothing other than we are expected to be a top team," he said of being ranked No. 1 in Division 1. "We haven't won or done anything yet as a team and it's my job to keep reminding the girls of that. We need to prove we deserve the ranking and more importantly, we want to be at the top of the ranking in February, when it matters."
Head coach: Ethan Damato (sixth year)
Coaching staff: Trevor Lyle; Cassie Churnside; Chris Stansbury.
Last year's records: 19-10 overall; 4-0 league (champion)
2013 CIF results: Reached quarterfinal round Division 1 playoffs.
The Breakers: Jenna Knott, Goalie, Sr. (two-time first-team all-league); Holly Parker, Goalie, Soph. (MVP Junior Olympics 16U Division, member of 12th-Grade ODP Sopac Team); Daniela Lucidi, Attacker, Jr. (three-year varsity player); Haley Evans, ATT, Soph. (second-team all-league, Junior Olympics champion, member of 10th-Grade ODP Sopac Team); Makenzie Fischer, UTL, Jr. (OCL MVP League, first-team All-CIF, member of USA Water Polo Junior National Team); Brighid Burnes, ATT, Jr. (second-team all-league); Natalie Selin, ATT, Soph. (second-team all-league, Junior Olympics champion, member of 10th-Grade ODP Sopac Team); Taylor Julson, DEF, Jr. (transfer from El Toro, Junior Olympics gold medalist); Cara Borkovec, UTL, Sr. (transfer from Fenwick, Ill, All-American, member of 12th-Grade ODP Sopac Team); Ally Jochim, DEF, Soph. (strong defender); Mia Salvini, UTL, Soph. (transfer from Mater Dei, second-team All-CIF, member of 12th-Grade ODP Sopac Team); Aria Fischer, UTL, Fr. (Junior Olympics All-American, member of USA Water Polo Cadet/Youth National Team; Bella Baldridge, ATT, Fr. (Junior Olympics All-American, member of USA Water Polo Development National Team).
Keys to success: "We need to stay hungry all season and understand that this year we have a target on our back," Damato said. "Pushing each other every day, out-working and out-preparing our opponents, is what we take pride in as a program. If we want to reach our potential, it's going to take hard work, every day."
Team tidbits: Laguna hasn't lost an Orange Coast League game since the league was formed in 2006-07...New Assistant Coach Cassie Churnside, a graduate of Villa Park (2008), was a two-time national champion at Stanford and played professionally in Spain last year, Damato said.
The schedule: Formidable, as usual. The Breakers play in three big tournaments (Newport Holiday Cup, Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, Irvine SoCal Championships), and play five nonleague games against teams ranked in the Division 1 preseason top 10 poll: No. 9 Edison, No. 3 Newport Harbor, No. 5 San Marcos, No. 2 Foothill, and No. 8 Dos Pueblos.
Season opener: Tuesday, home vs. Dana Hills, 4:15 p.m.
Tuesday: Dana Hills, 4:15 p.m.
Thursday: Corona Santiago, 3:30 p.m.
Dec. 10: Edison, 3:30 p.m.
Dec. 18: Mater Dei, 3:30 p.m.
Dec. 31: San Clemente, TBA
Jan. 3-4: at Newport Harbor Holiday Cup, TBA
Jan. 10: Foothill, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 15: at *Saddleback, 3:15 p.m.
Jan. 16: at Dos Pueblos, 7 p.m.
Jan. 17-18: at Santa Barbara Tournament, TBA
Jan. 22: *Estancia, 3:15 p.m.
Jan. 24: at Newport Harbor, 3:15 p.m.
Jan. 31: San Marcos, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 5: vs. *Godinez, 6 p.m. (at Santa Ana Valley High)
Feb. 6-8: at Irvine SoCal Tournament, TBA
Feb. 12: *Costa Mesa, 3:15 p.m.
Feb. 14: at El Toro, 3:15 p.m.
(*denotes league game)