Year In Review, Part 1: Excellence for Laguna

During the past year, Laguna Beach High athletic teams have achieved several memorable team and individual performances.

With the 2013 prep sports year coming to a close next week, it's time to look back on some of the key moments turned in by the Breakers.

First up, athletic achievements from January to June.

January-June

The girls' water polo team reached the elite eight of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs and just missed landing a spot in the final four. The sixth-ranked Breakers reached the quarterfinal round where they were edged in overtime, 11-10, by fourth-ranked Newport Harbor.

Laguna turned in a perfect Orange Coast League record for the seventh straight year under Coach Ethan Damato.

"I really think this year's team overachieved," Damato said. "We finished the year ranked in the top six in both the [Orange] county and the division. We finished sixth in the top three high school tournaments (Newport Holiday Cup, Santa Barbara, Irvine Southern California Championships) in the country, and we battled with the best in the country.

"I am very happy with the effort of our seniors and with the experience our underclassmen received throughout the year. We plan on being back in semis next year with a chance at a D-1 championship, and who knows, maybe win the whole thing one of these days."

Sophomore Makenzie Fischer was named MVP of the OCL. First-team members included seniors Lexi Del Toro, Sydney Saxe and Mackenzie Baldridge, and junior goalie Jenna Knott. Sophomore Brighid Burnes and freshmen Natalie Selin and Haley Evans made second team.

Fischer and Del Toro later were named to the Girls' Water Polo All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 team.

•Laguna made its way into postseason play in boys' soccer after the Breakers received an at-large berth to the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoff field. They had their season come to an end in a 2-1 wild-card game loss at Diamond Bar. The Breakers finished the season 9-4-5. Senior Reece Barton was named Offensive co-MVP of the Orange Coast League.

"This is the third year in a row the team has improved both its league and overall record and the boys should be very proud of all their efforts throughout the season," Coach Dan Richards said.

•A young Laguna girls' soccer team came up big down the stretch of the regular season to also earn a spot in postseason play. After finishing in third place in the Orange Coast League, the Breakers opened CIF Southern Section play with a 5-0 home shutout of Cerritos in a Division 4 wild-card game.

Their season ended in a 3-0, first-round loss at Culver City where the Breakers lost goalie Kylie George to injury only 30 minutes into the match. The setback put an end to an eight-game unbeaten streak for Laguna which reached the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

"The successful [varsity] campaign cannot go forward without mentioning the depth and strength of the soccer program," Coach Bill Rolfing said.

•In a year's time, the Laguna girls' basketball team went from winless to playoff bound. The Breakers, under Coach Mark Lewis, tied for third place in the OCL but won a playoff game from Costa Mesa to earn an automatic berth to the CIF Southern Section Division 4A playoffs.

Although they dropped a first-round contest at No. 8-seeded Brentwood, the Breakers won 19 of 25 games and set the program record for most wins in a single season. Other program records the team set were for consecutive wins to start a season (six), consecutive wins (seven), and won its first-ever tournament during the regular season.

"This year our team experienced one of the biggest turnarounds," Lewis said. "From 0-18 last season, to a third-place finish in league, champions of two tournaments, and a berth in CIF, this team has truly transformed itself into a winner. This has truly been a magical season."

Laguna Beach freshman guard Jackie Cenan was named co-MVP for the 2013 OCL season. Laguna junior Jane Wallin was named to the first team, and freshman Alexandra Lewis made the second team.

•The boys' basketball team, once again, claimed the OCL championship. The Breakers were the No 9-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 4AA entering the playoffs. They won their postseason opener against Los Angeles Salesian but lost in the second round at No. 8-ranked North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake. Junior guard Alec Wulff netted a career-high seven three-pointers and scored a career-best 29 points in the loss.

"In total, we had a great year," Coach Bret Fleming said. "We went 22-7, 10-0 in league, and those are both good marks. This was a great group of kids who worked really hard, and they were really nice kids, as well. I thought we had good team chemistry all year."

Senior guard Cole Kesler was named MVP of the OCL and also was named to the All CIF Southern Section Division 4AA Basketball Team.

"Cole had one of the best years of any player in recent history, and always played within the team concept," Fleming said. "He led us in scoring, assists and steals, and led us to 22 wins and an undefeated league championship. He was a fierce competitor and also one of the nicest kids I've ever been around."

Kesler was one of four Breakers to be named to the All-OCL team. Wulff, senior guard Jake Dalke, and junior post Noah Blanton, were named to the first team.

•Three Breakers, Spencer Donovan, Tyler Metez and Mitch Wills, finished among the top 12 at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach, at the Orange Coast League boys' golf prelims tournament.

Metez, Donovan and Wills made the 2013 All-OCL Boys' Golf Team.

•Laguna's softball team made history last spring. The Breakers finished third in the OCL to qualify for the playoffs, then opened the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs with an 11-4 home victory over No. 8-ranked Riverside Woodcrest Christian. The win gave the 2013 squad the distinction of being the first Laguna softball team to win a playoff game.

"I am proud of my girls," first-year coach Victoria Batistelli said. "Each and every one of them played their hearts out for their team, and had a great game both offensively and defensively.

"Winning CIF was our goal from Day 1, and we prepared for it with a lot of hard work and by going head-to-head with some very tough teams in the preseason that pushed us to become the Breakers team we are today. I am so very proud of my girls for accomplishing this major milestone."

The Breakers, who finished 12-17 after falling in a second-round playoff game at Montebello Schurr, placed four players on the All-OCL Softball Team: catcher Kennedi Gherardini, pitchers Haley Putnam and Halle Redfearn, and shortstop Cory Kent.

•In baseball, the 2013 Breakers turned in one of the best seasons the program has seen. They went undefeated in winning the OCL title, finished 26-3 overall, and entered the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs as the No. 3 seed.

The season ended in a second-round loss at Riverside La Sierra.

Along the way, Laguna set several new team records including a program-record 22-game win streak and eight shutouts. The Breakers became only the second Laguna team to go a perfect 15-0 against OCL competition.

"This is a family who will never forget each other," Coach Mike Bair said. "We had a great year and can hold our heads up high."

Senior Jackson Rees (first team) and junior Steven Harrison (second team) were named to the All-CIF Southern Section Division 4 baseball team. Rees also was named MVP and Harrison was a first-team selection on the All-OCL team. Senior Robbie McInerny and juniors Richie Nunis and Preston GrandPre made the first team, and seniors Cole Millerd, Larry Stewart and Blake Hester, along with junior Grant Wilhelm, made the second team.

•The boys' volleyball team upheld the school's tradition of putting together another unit that would be favored to contend for a CIF Southern Section championship. The 2013 squad held down a No. 2 ranking in Division 2 throughout the season, won another OCL title, and reached the quarterfinal round of the playoffs for the 17th consecutive year, and 33rd time, overall.

The Breakers (19-9) had their season and title run come to an end in a five-set loss at eighth-ranked Foothill.

Senior outside hitter Weston Barnes was named to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 Boys' Volleyball Team. Barnes and five other Breakers, senior setter Grifan Fair and senior middle blocker Maxx McCarter (first-team picks), and senior opposite Jackson Pries, junior middle blocker Noah Blanton, and junior outside hitter Jack Wyett (second-team picks), were named all-league.

•Kari Johnson said she couldn't have been more proud of her Laguna Beach High boys' and girls' swim teams after their performances in May at the CIF Southern Section Division 3 Swimming and Diving Championships. The girls' team finished in second place and the boys' team was third.

Lila Vera placed second in both the girls' 100-yard butterfly (56.01) and 100 backstroke (58.58). Her time in the butterfly set a new school record that she had previously held. The Breakers also finished second in the 200 freestyle relay (Makenzie Fischer, Lexi Del Toro, Sydney Saxe, Vera) at 1:41.02, and in the 400 free relay (3:40.88).

The Laguna girls have been a runner-up to a Southern Section title three times in the last five years.

"We were trying to win it this year, but I could not have asked for anything more from this group of girls," Johnson said. "They gave it their all and worked together as a team. I still believe a CIF title is within reach, it's just a matter of time."

The Breakers' Erik Juliusson won two individual events at finals. He took the 200 free in 1:40.68, and the 100 backstroke in 52.79. Both times lowered his school record in both events.

Johnson said Juliusson is the first male to win two individual events at a CIF final.

The 400 free relay team of Cameron Karkosa, Max Morgan, Cade Baldridge and Juliusson, finished second and hit a new school record time at 3:13.76.

"The boys did an excellent job at CIF," Johnson said. "I could not be more proud of their performance as a team. We had a very young team this year, composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores, and I'm excited to see if we can pull out a victory next year."

During the spring season, the Breakers set several school records: Vera in the girls' 50 free (24.54) and 100 butterfly (56.01); Juliusson in the boys' 200 free, 100 backstroke, 200 individual medley (1:54.96) and 500 free (4:37.22); Karkosa in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.73), and the boys' 400 relay team.

The Laguna Beach High boys' and girls' swim teams completed perfect Orange Coast League dual-meet seasons and both repeated as dual meet champions. The girls claimed their sixth consecutive league dual-meet crown and the boys' team made it five straight dual meet titles.

•An OCL championship and a No. 4 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs was what the boys' tennis team earned last spring. The Breakers made their way to the quarterfinal round in the postseason where they were upended by Redlands.

At the OCL tennis finals in early-May, an all-Laguna title match in the singles title match saw No. 1 seed Teague Hamilton repeat as champion by defeating No. 2-seeded Morgan Lebby, 6-1, 6-0. Hamilton and Lebby also faced each other in last year's OCL singles final.

"We had two important goals for the season," Laguna Coach Don Davis said. "One, to win league. We overcame numerous injuries to key players, but still managed to win league. Two, to improve our doubles play. We accomplished both goals."

Hamilton and Lebby moved on to compete at the CIF Individuals tournament. Hamilton won his first two postseason matches by sweep and advanced to the tournament's round of 16 at Seal Beach Tennis Center.

•Laguna athletes turned in both record and personal-best times at the CIF Southern Section Track and Field Division 4 finals at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut in late-May. Freshman Coco Putnam set a new school-record time in the girls' 300-meter hurdles with a time of 46.22 seconds (sixth place).

The girls' 4x400 relay team, sophomore Janie Crawford, Putnam, sophomore Natalie Kimball and junior Brielle Budroe, finished fifth with a time of 4:00.60 which Coach Steve Lalim said was the second-fastest time in program history and less than one second off the school record.

"I thought all the girls ran great," Lalim said. "They all placed in the top six, earning a medal. I'm extremely proud. We had a great season."

In the boys' competition, Laguna senior Spencer Anderson finished seventh in the 110 hurdles with a time of 15.30. Senior Drake Martinez had qualified for the finals in the boys' 200-meter run but Laguna boys' coach Scott Wittkop said the senior did not compete Saturday.

"It was a great way for Spencer to finish his career," Wittkop said. "He made it to CIF finals and raced his personal-best time."

The Laguna girls' won the OCL team championship and the boys' team finished in second place at league finals in early-May. During the course of the season, the boys' 4x100 meter relay team, which saw Martinez, Anderson, seniors Reece Barton and Robert Clemons, and junior Nate Lancaster, taking turns at passing the baton, made it a habit of setting, then breaking, the school record time in the event during the season. The group did it twice within a two-day period in early-March to open the season.

Next week: Part 2 (September-December).

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