NEWPORT BEACH Laguna Beach High’s girls water polo team initially envisioned a much different season than the one that will conclude in the coming days after just three weeks.
Returning 11 college-bound seniors off a CIF Division 1 championship team, the Breakers planned to contend for another title under the lights at Woollett Aquatics Center. The run appeared destined to be thrilling and dominating, with whispers of an undefeated season in the background.
The coronavirus pandemic painfully wiped away those aspirations but the healing for a resilient group continued on Wednesday, March 17.
The Breakers won their “playoff” by defeating host Newport Harbor 10-4 to capture the challenging Surf League title and improve to 6-0 overall.
Laguna Beach displayed many of its familiar traits. The Breakers played unselfishly with seven different players scoring. They played lock-down defense and bonded afterward like sisters.
Yes, the Breakers lost the chance to make CIF history but they’re leaving the spring with another prize.
“Appreciate the time we have together,” said senior Emma Lineback, who scored twice. “(The delayed season) kind of made me realize how I kind of took that long season and grind we had together for granted until this year and made me appreciate it so much more.”
Laguna Beach played with that type of urgency. After Newport Harbor’s Avery Montiel scored the first goal on the power-play about a minute into the opening period, the Breakers responded with a 5-0 run to take control.
Emerging junior Ava Houlahan started and capped the surge with goals but there were contributions throughout the lineup. Seniors Jessie Rose and Nicole Struss each recorded assists.
Lineback, the Register’s reigning player the year, highlighted the third period with a field block that sparked a counterattack that she punctuated with a goal for a 7-2 lead.
Senior Molly Renner also finished with two goals while seniors Rachael Carver, Emma Singer and Imani Clemons each one goal apiece. Struss, the reigning CIF player of the year, also helped force two penalty shots with her strong play around the cage.
Laguna Beach goalie Lauren Schneider anchored a defense that allowed only two natural goals by making eight saves, including one against a penalty shot. The sophomore also scored a goal in the fourth period on a full-court shot against a defense that focused on the counterattack.
Schneider marveled at the strength of the seniors afterward. She the group has “accepted” not having CIF and remains united.
“They’re awesome to look up to every day,” she said. “Just how close they are. They grew up together. Even the ones that came from different cities, they welcome them so much. And we’re always just hanging out together, so they’re really close.”
Schneider said Coach Ethan Damato assisted the healing with several “heartfelt” talks to the team, encouraging the players to focus on controlling what they can.
“It was hard at the beginning,” she said. “(The pandemic) isn’t under our control. What we can control, we’re going to control.”
The Breakers did just that again Wednesday.
Newport Harbor goalie Anne Reed made six saves, including a penalty, while Morgan Netherton recorded two goals and an assist.
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