IRVINE It’s dubbed the largest water polo tournament in the world. A record 866 teams came to Orange County for the Junior Olympics the past nine days.
But when it came to settling the girls 14-and-under title Sunday, two of the county’s hottest, backyard rivals had to be separated at the Woollett Aquatics Aquatics:
Perennial powers SOCAL and Laguna Beach but local rivals first.
The two clashed in zone qualifying for Junior Olympics. They dueled at the U.S. club championships and at the Cal Cup state championships.
Now, there was just one grudge match left.
“We’ve kind of known (this would be the final),” SOCAL goalie Anna Reed said. “We’ve had our differences with Laguna. They’ve won. They’ve lost. It goes back and forth.”
SOCAL made sure the final showdown went its way.
Behind a hard perimeter press, 15 saves by the Newport Harbor High-bound Reed and a dazzling performance by Emily Ausmus, SOCAL defeated Laguna Beach 5-2 in a match that displayed several future high school standouts.
The Junior Olympics title is believed to be SOCAL’s first in the 14-and-under division since 2002.
SoCal sinks Laguna 5-2 and Coach Ed Reynolds flips into the pool @ocvarsity pic.twitter.com/ZVnVj8AGXp
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) July 28, 2019
“This was the first time we didn’t go into a one-goal, down to the final-minute experience (with Laguna) because they’re a great coached club,” veteran SOCAL coach Ed Reynolds said.
“We wanted to press the right people and press in the lanes. That’s pretty simple what we teach at 14-and-unders.”
Laguna Beach led 1-0 after the first period but SOCAL quickly seized control in the second frame to open a 4-2 lead at halftime.
SOCAL shut out Laguna Beach, the 2017 champion and runner-up last year, in the second half.
“It’s always a battle,” said Reed, an incoming freshman at Newport Harbor who blocked a penalty shot in the first period. “We were ready for this game.”
Orange Lutheran-bound center Rachel Gazzaniga scored on SOCAL’s first possession of the second period. She drove deep into 2 meters and scored off an entry pass by left-hander Sara Naulty, who also will be a freshman at Orange Lutheran this coming school year.
Gazzaniga later scored on a weak-side drive and cross pass by Eliana Zener, yet another player bound for Orange Lutheran.
“Orange Lutheran is loading up,” Reynolds said.
Naulty capped a 3-0 run by SOCAL by skipping in a perimeter strike from about 6 meters in the middle of the second period.
Sara Naulty and @SOCALWPF leads 4-2 at half v @LBWPFoundation pic.twitter.com/ky27cWkrQT
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) July 28, 2019
Laguna Beach defender Olivia Ouellette — a freshman bound for Los Alamitos — powered in a shot from center off Reed’s block with 2:15 left in the first half to make it 3-2 but SOCAL answered.
Foothill sophomore Madeleine Poissonnier scored from center with 24 seconds left in the half to extend SOCAL’s lead to 4-2.
Ausmus, selected the tournament MVP, capped a sensational effort by scoring the lone goal of the second half, a cross-cage lob shot early in the fourth period from the wing that bounced in off the side bar.
The M.L. King of Riverside-bound Ausmus added four steals, including one from the perimeter in which she also drew an exclusion on.
“She is amazing,” Reed said. “And she’s a super-nice person. She’s always cheering us on. She’s super humble.”
Laguna Beach goalie Lauren Schneider also played well. A former SOCAL player, the Laguna Beach High-bound keeper made 14 saves, including one against a penalty shot.
“We’ve been in the finals with (SOCAL) pretty much throughout the year,” Laguna Beach coach Kelcie Ferreira said. “It’s always been a close game but they got us this time. … We live and learn.”
Laguna Beach’s offense was hurt in the first period when center Lauren Short picked up two fouls. The Laguna Beach High freshman fouled out in the third.
Laguna Beach’s Avery Montiel, a left-handed freshman bound for Newport Harbor, scored the first goal of the match by converting a power-play chance off an assist from Ouellette. Montiel also recorded two field blocks and two steals.
Laguna Beach’s Charlotte Riches, also bound for Laguna Beach High, drew a penalty shot in the first period.
In other finals, Laguna Beach’s girls won the 12-and-under title while SET claimed the 16-and-under crown. In the 18s final, Northern California’s 680 Drivers defeated SOCAL in a shootout 15-13.
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