Resilient Laguna Beach girls water polo beats Newport Harbor for Surf League title

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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Santa Margarita boys, girls water polo edge Mater Dei in sudden-death overtime

SANTA ANA Santa Margarita’s water polo teams edged rival Mater Dei in sudden-death overtime not once but twice on Tuesday, March 16.

The Eagles’ girls rallied to beat the host Monarchs 8-7 in double sudden-death overtime while the boys followed in the same pool with a 10-9 victory early in the first sudden-death period.

Santa Margarita’s boys (5-0, 5-0) and girls (4-0, 3-0) teams both clinched at least a share of Trinity League championships, a coveted accomplishment any year but even more so with the pandemic wiping away the postseason.

The boys match delivered a playoff-like celebration by Santa Margarita, which clinched its first league title since 2001. Senior Ben Kirshon scored the winner 40 seconds into sudden-death overtime, taking a cross pass from senior Marko Maramica on a counterattack and firing a near-side shot in off the top of the cross bar.

“Our school hasn’t won this league in over 20 years so just to get the win on our senior season was really awesome,” said Kirshon, who finished with a match-high five goals.

What a finish for ⁦@smchs_bwp🤽‍♂️💦💯

— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) March 17, 2021

Maramica finished with six assists but he and Kirshon credited senior teammate Speedy Laster for helping set up the winning play.

“I saw Speedy screening Ben’s guy,” Maramica said. “Ben found the open water, popped up and I saw him weak (side) and just gave him the ball.”

The counterattack came after Mater Dei’s Ryan McManigal won his fifth consecutive sprint to open sudden-death overtime, leading the Monarchs to call timeout. Mater Dei isolated center Grant Loth at center but fired a shot that blasted off the crossbar and slightly off goalie Zach Cwertnia’s head before floating to the side off the cage.

Cwertina, a junior, tossed the outlet pass to the center of the pool for Laster, who passed to the Maramica on the wing before quickly driving toward to 2 meters to draw the defense and set the screen to free Kirshon on the weak-side wing.

Laster scored once and helped anchor the Eagles’ defense with three field blocks against the Monarchs’ power-play, which finished 4 for 9.

The UCLA-bound Loth drew at least four exclusions and scored once against a sagging Eagles’ defense. Senior Clay Kaneko paced Mater Dei with four goals while goalie sophomore goalie Nathan Tauscher led the defense with 14 saves.

In the girls game, Camille Mras scored on a skip-shot in the final seconds of the second sudden-death overtime off a pass from Carly McMurray to lift Santa Margarita to an 8-7 victory.

Mras, McMurray and Ruby Hodge each scored twice for the Eagles, who their second consecutive sudden-death overtime match in the Trinity League. They edged Orange Lutheran last week.

“This year,” coach Brian Weathersby said, “our team is mentally tough. They came back and fighting.”

Santa Margarita’s boys and girls close the season later this week with matches against Servite and Rosar, respectively. The girls can become the first outright league champion in the league since Mater Dei in 2017-2018.

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Santa Margarita girls water polo edges Orange Lutheran in sudden-death overtime

Ella Schneider scored on a penalty shot drawn by Honnie Vandeweghe early in sudden-death overtime Thursday, March 11 to lift Santa Margarita High’s girls water polo team past visiting Orange Lutheran 10-9 in the Trinity League.

The USC-committed Vandeweghe helped cap a physical match by drawing the penalty against the Lancers’ goalie.

Schneider, a junior, paced the Eagles (3-0, 2-0) with five goals. Vandeweghe scored once and added two assists and three steals.

Santa Margarita goalie Izzy Rosensitto finished with eight saves.

The scored was tied 7-7 after regulation. Santa Margarita’s Camille Mras, Carly McMurray and Natasha Kieckhafer each scored in overtime.

Orange Lutheran, which beat host Mater Dei in overtime on Tuesday, led 5-3 going into the fourth period. Santa Margarita takes on Mater Dei on Tuesday.

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Huntington Beach boys water polo beats Newport Harbor in league for the first time since ’16

NEWPORT BEACH Some of the chatter going into the coronavirus-shortened water polo season pegged the Huntington Beach High boys as the best squad in Orange County.

The Oilers provided support for that claim on Wednesday, March 10.

Huntington Beach piled up six goals in the first period, never trailed and became the first Orange County team since 2017 to beat host Newport Harbor in a 17-11 triumph in the Surf League.

The past two seasons, Harvard-Westlake has mostly been the only school to defeat Newport Harbor but the Oilers accomplished it in impressive fashion Wednesday.

“It’s a big one for us,” Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “We are still growing and learning, and we want to get even better than this but to beat Newport at home, we’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”

The last county team to sink the Sailors was Mater Dei during the 2017 postseason. The Oilers also beat Newport Harbor that fall at the South Coast Tournament but not in league. Huntington Beach’s last league victory against the Sailors came from its 2016 team, the best in school history and CIF-SS Division 1 runner-up that fall.

Huntington Beach (2-0, 2-0) racked up the goals by balancing a swift counterattack with timely production from center.

Freshman Ryder Dodd paced the Oilers with six goals, including three on the counterattack. He also saved a goal late in the third period by sprinting behind goalie Gabe Haddad to grab a deflected shot before it floated into the cage.

Dodd’s UCLA-bound brother Chase added three goals but fueled the 2-meter attack led with several outstanding entry passes into center en route to three assists.

Senior center Tyler Padua scored one goal and drew four exclusions. Center James Rozolis-Hill didn’t play because of precautionary reasons, Branisavljevic said, but Ethan Spoon came off the bench to score from set.

Emerging left-hander sophomore Zach Bettino added four goals, including two in the opening period, while Hadded finished with 10 saves.

Chase Dodd credited his team’s counterattack and mentality for the victory.

“Probably the constant counterattack all four quarters,” he said. “They actually played really, really well on the counter defense but we just kept doing it.”

Chase Dodd added that his team viewed the match as an opportunity not to be wasted.

“We’re fortunate we actually get the season,” the senior said. “For the past year, we never knew we were going to have a season. If it’s just a short, six games, we really want to make the most out of it.”

UCLA-bound center Eli Liechty led Newport with four goals and drew three penalty shots in the opening frame. The Sailors converted two of their four penalty shots in the game.

Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said fitness was a factor for his squad, which beat rival Harvard-Westlake on Monday. “We came off a good win on Monday, (and) had a hard practice yesterday,” he said. “It’s hard to back that up when you don’t train for 11 1/2 months consistently.”

The teams will play the second-round of the league on March 19 at Newport Harbor. The Sailors face another tough non-league foe Saturday with Loyola. “We’re just excited to play,” Sinclair said.

End of 3rd: HB 11, Newport 8 on strength of this extra man goal

— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) March 11, 2021

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Mater Dei boys water polo delivers classic performance to sink Orange Lutheran

One defender after another stretched an arm high to swat away a shot attempt. The man-advantage hummed at an efficient clip. And Grant Loth controlled the tempest waters at 2 meters.

Mater Dei’s boys water polo team showed Tuesday night, March 9 that it has regained many of the traits that made it a seven-time CIF-Southern Section champion.

The Monarchs played strong defense, shared the ball on the power play and attacked from center in a 14-7 victory against visiting Orange Lutheran to improve to 2-0 in the Trinity League. Mater Dei also beat JSerra 14-7 last week in its league opener.

The UCLA-bound Loth paced the Monarchs with seven goals, including two even-strength strikes from set and four on the power-play. The Monarchs finished 7 for 8 with the extra defender but also racked up 10 field blocks on defense.

The COVID-shortened season might be ending soon but the Monarchs appear on their way to making a point under third-year coach Brian Anderson.

“This is a good team,” he said. “We rebuilt Mater Dei.”

End of 1st: ⁦@mdboyswaterpolo⁩ 4 ⁦@OLuWaterPolo⁩ 1 ⁦

— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) March 10, 2021

Last season, the Monarchs lost in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs to eventual champion Harvard-Westlake but look much improved. They feature three strong juniors in attacker Logan McCarroll, defender Luke Redoutey and sprinter Ryan McManigal.

McManigal recorded two goals and three field blocks, including a thumping stuff at the end of the third period against the Lancers’ power-play. Orange Lutheran went 4 for 10 on the man-advantage.

Attacker Vince Merk, another promising junior, also collected three field blocks, a goal and two assists.

Luth was backed up at center by his sophomore brother Carter, who scored twice off the bench.

Mater Dei sophomore goalie Nathan Tauscher made eight saves to keep up with Orange Lutheran standout senior Brennis Lidecis, who had nine in three periods, including a penalty block against McCarroll.

“If we play as a team, we’ll take the W,” Grant Loth said. “We want to make the best of every moment. We want to come out strong, go up right away and put the pressure on.”

Mater Dei’s goal of capturing the Trinity League title will encounter another major test Tuesday against visiting Santa Margarita. The Eagles beat JSerra 20-3 in another match Tuesday.

Senior center Andrew Barnuevo scored three goals to lead Orange Lutheran.

In the girls match, Orange Lutheran edged Mater Dei 13-11 in overtime.

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Laguna Beach girls water polo defeats Newport Harbor to extend league winning streak

Emma Lineback and Molly Renner each scored three goals Saturday, March 6 to help Laguna Beach’s girls water polo team defeat Newport Harbor 14-8 for its 62nd consecutive league victory.

The Breakers (2-0) lead the Surf League match 9-7 at halftime and outscored the Sailors 5-1 in the second half.

Jessie Rose, Ava Houlahan and Nicole Struss each added two goals apiece for Laguna Beach.

Taylor Smith scored five goals to pace Newport Harbor (1-1).

In the boys match, Newport Harbor defeated Laguna Beach 15-9 behind six goals by Ben Liechty.


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Liechty brothers power Newport Harbor boys water polo past Corona del Mar

The pandemic nearly prevented brothers Eli and Ben Liechty from showing their capabilities as a high school water polo duo.

But thanks to a late approval that savaged a few weeks of the boys season, the Newport Harbor siblings will get the chance to leave a lasting impression.

The pair started strongly on Thursday night, March 4, combining to scored seven goals to lead the Sailors to a 14-5 against Corona del Mar in a Battle of the Bay rivalry match at Newport Harbor High.

Eli, a senior center committed to UCLA, scored three goals and drew a penalty shot, while Ben, a left-handed sophomore attacker, netted a match-high four goals and blocked two power-play shots in the field.

Early in the second period, Eli scored on the man-advantage off a cross-pass from Ben that opened a 4-1 lead and set the stage for more highlights to come. The brothers scored back-to-back goals early in the third to push the lead to 8-3. Ben later found Eli for an another assist on the man-advantage in the fourth.

Newport Harbor’s chemistry wasn’t limited to the brothers. The Sailors converted their 6 of their first 10 chance on the power-play, showing slick passing and teamwork.

Eli and Ben both played on the Sailors’ 2019 squad that finished as the CIF Division 1 runner-up but they weren’t in leading roles like they will be this spring. The boys season was delayed because of the pandemic but is scheduled to run through March 20.

Newport Harbor’s other top duo was in goal with sophomores Cooper Mathisrud and Alex Altshuler combining for 10 saves.

Dylan Hamm paced Coroan del Mar with two goals.

In the girls match, Newport Harbor defeated Corona del Mar, 14-6, behind five goals by Taylor Smith and three by Lily Gess.

Please check back for more results.

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Dana Hills hires ex-Mater Dei, Corona del Mar player Trevor Gladych as boys water polo coach

Dana Hills High’s new boys water polo coach will be drawing from an array of experience in and outside of the pool.

The South Coast League contender has hired former Mater Dei and Corona del Mar player Trevor Gladych as its coach, replacing veteran Matt Rosa.

Gladych, 31, played collegiate club water polo and earned a law degree from Georgetown and a screenwriting degree from Loyola Marymount.

He played club water polo at Villanova for coach Dan Sharadin, his top coaching mentor and a key figure in the rise of the College Water Polo Association in the eastern U.S.

Gladych red-shirted for Loyola Marymount’s men’s water polo team.

He has coached and taught the past five years at Saint Francis in Mountain View.

Gladych inherits a team that has been chasing San Clemente the past few seasons in the South Coast League but remained among the top programs in Orange County.

Rosa resigned after 17 seasons in November to spend more time with his family. The Dolphins qualified for the playoffs the past 13 seasons under Rosa, highlighted by a CIF-SS Division 2 runner-up finish to Foothill in 2015.

Gladych praised Rosa for his coaching and the character he instilled in players. He views water polo as the vehicle to achieve character goals.

“The boys at Dana Hills are phenomenal,” Gladych said. “I could not be more excited.”

Gladych will serve as a walk-on coach and be assisted by Kenny Yamamoto.

Gladych also works as a paralegal and a counselor with “Admissions Buddy”, a service for college-bound students. He said he aspires to start a club water polo program.

His brother, Ryan, was a standout center at Mater Dei and played at Brown.

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Swimming official Kieth Pike remembered for deck excellence during 56-year career

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Kieth Pike, one of Southern California’s most experienced, respected and colorful swimming officials, died July 19 after a sudden bout with ketoacidosis, an acidic blood condition, his wife, Jo Ann, said Monday.

Pike, 84, started officiating high school meets in Southern California in 1962 and continued until 2017, the year he received the Ed Ruth Excellence in Officiating Award from Southern California Swimming.

“I respected him every time I had him deck,” veteran swimming official Richard Davis said. “I knew the deck was covered.”

Pike officiated the CIF-Southern Section swimming championships and was a fixture at Long Beach Wilson-hosted Klaus Barth Invitational.

The Westminster resident also officiated USA Swimming meets and high school water polo matches. He was past president of the Southern California Aquatics Federation.

“Kieth was one our best officials,” veteran referee John Montrella said.

Pike indeed spelled his first name Kieth, a unique flair picked by his mother.

Pike swam and played water polo at Long Beach Jordan High before serving in the Air Force from 1956-1962.

After the Air Force, he began working as the pool attendant/lifeguard at Long Beach Millikan High’s indoor pool. He balanced the position with his referee assignments.

“He enjoyed (officiating) because he was there for the students and the athletes,” Jo Ann said.

Pike met Jo Ann, his wife of nearly 35 years, while at the Long Beach Millikan pool.

He is survived by children, Keith, Kevin, Michael, Randy, Bryan and Wendi, ex-wife Suzanne and several grandchildren.

A funeral service is being planned for Riverside National Cemetery in August.

“His zest for life and laughter were contagious and irresistible,” the Pike family wrote in a tribute. “He was silly and loud, dedicated and strong, dynamic and deep. … Kieth’s voice will always be with us, cracking jokes, brightening our days and urging us to be be better.”

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High school swimming could encounter boosts, challenges in comeback from cancellation

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California’s high school swimming season ended abruptly in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s scheduled comeback in 2021 offers intrigue and challenges.

In other words, it could feel a lot like just another swimming season in Southern California.

And considering the health crisis that has raged since March, that normalcy would be a welcomed vibe.

“We’re just hopeful we can have something this year,” Santa Margarita co-coach Rich Blanc said this week.

The revised sports calendar by the CIF-Southern Section pushes the swimming season back about three weeks to a start on March 13, 2021. The season will then operate in nearly its regular spring window.

The Southern Section championships are scheduled for the week of May 24, the last week before Memorial Day. The state championships remain and slotted for June 4-5.

Part of the intrigue and benefit for swimming in the new calendar is that many boys will enter the season directly from water polo. The water polo season will end for most teams in early March.

Traditionally, the boys play water polo in the fall and have an extended break before swimming. But with essentially no break between seasons this school year, the boys could be excellence shape early in the swimming campaign.

“I bet in the first two weeks of the season, you’ll see their best times until league,” Villa Park consultant John Kulisich said.

The boys, of course, will make the same transition that the girls have made for years from water polo to swimming. The girls usually play water polo in the winter and move right into swimming.

The swimming season also might experience a rehearsal of sorts in November. USA Swimming’s TYR Pro Swim Series is scheduled to make a stop in Irvine at Woollett Aquatics Center, Nov. 12-15, 2020.

Coach Ken LaMont of the host Irvine Novaquatics said his club will work with health officials leading up the meet but knows the pandemic makes the future uncertain.

“We’re excited about the possibility of the meet,” LaMont said Friday.

The high school season will face hurdles with scheduling.

The calendar’s stretch into late May and early June could conflict with high school graduations.

And there’s the typical, Olympic-year consideration. The early June conclusion of the season will be close to the start of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, June 13-20, in Omaha, Neb.

In past Olympic years, some elite high school swimmers alter their schedule and training in preparation of Trials.

“We will deal with it successfully,” Mission Viejo Nadadores coach Mark Schubert said the balance act. “I don’t think there is a negative.”

Yes, any type of comeback from a canceled season would certainly be a positive.

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