Girls' Water Polo: Laguna begins with a bang

One down, three to go.

The top-ranked Laguna Beach girls' water polo team began its bid for a CIF Southern Section championship Wednesday by taking on Marina. The Breakers once again bolted to a big, early lead and went on to overwhelm, as they have many a previous opponent, the visiting Vikings, 23-5, in a first-round Division 1 game.

Laguna faced a 20-win Marina squad that was enjoying a breakout season. But the Breakers made quick work of the Vikings (20-10), the fourth-place team from the Sunset League and an at-large entry to the playoffs. They opened up an 8-0 lead after one quarter and took their lead to 15-1 by halftime as they improved to 27-1 overall.

"I thought the girls looked really sharp and came out firing in the first quarter," Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. "We forced a lot of turnovers and got a lot of fastbreak opportunities. The girls played really fast and really unselfishly all game. It was a lot of fun to watch.

"Marina had good size as a team and gave us some problems at center and with their two big lefties. They had a good season and played hard all game against us. "

With 10 Breakers scoring, freshman Bella Baldridge and junior Makenzie Fischer led the blitz with five goals each. Freshman Aria Fischer had four goals, senior Cara Borkovec and sophomore Natalie Selin two goals each, and juniors Brighid Burnes and Taylor Julson, and sophomores Haley Evans, Ally Jochim and Mia Salvini, scored one apiece.

Aria Fischer also had a team-high four assists and Baldridge, Selin and Evans three assists each. Salvini had a game-high five steals.

Goalies Jenna Knott and sophomore Holly Parker combined for 11 saves, with Knott, a senior, accounting for seven stops.

Wednesday's tournament-opening win sends Laguna on to Saturday's quarterfinals where the Breakers will play host to Irvine at 2:15 p.m.. The Vaqueros (17-12), the No. 2 team from the Pacific Coast League, won their playoff opener Wednesday, 7-4, over Canyon/Anaheim.

"We haven't played Irvine yet this year," Damato said. "They were ranked 10th all year and are a well-coached team. We are expecting a battle and the girls are excited to rise to the next level of competition in the quarters. Every round gets tougher. We just want to get better every game."

The Division 1 tournament is down to a final eight: Laguna, Irvine, No. 2-seed Foothill (Century League champ), No. 3-seed and defending division champion Corona del Mar (Pacific Coast League champ), No. 4-seed San Marcos (Channel League champ), Los Alamitos (Sunset League champ), Newport Harbor (Sunset League No. 2), and Santa Barbara (Channel League No. 2).

Damato said last week that seven or eight teams in Division 1 were playing strong water polo.

"There is going to be some great quarterfinal games," he said. "Trevor (Lyle, assistant coach) and I will be hopping around Saturday morning filming as many games as we can."

The winner of Saturday's game between Irvine and Laguna advances to play in a division semifinal at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center (right course) in Irvine. The Irvine-Laguna winner will face either No. 4-seed San Marcos or Sunset League champ Los Alamitos in the semifinals.

The Division 1 championship game is March 1 at Woollett.

Laguna won a Division 2 title in 2009 and was runner-up to the division crown in 2010. The Breakers reached the semifinal round in both the 2011 and 2012 playoffs, both losses coming in overtime to the eventual champion.

Last season's postseason run ended in the quarterfinals.

"As I said, we are focused on getting better every game and taking it one game at a time," Damato said. "We can't look past any opponent. The girls are focused, driven and working hard at training. We are in a great shape and playing well. It should be a lot of fun.

"Next up, Irvine. One game at a time. "

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