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Hit by adversity, Laguna Beach emerges stronger, united
Some of the most significant triumphs in water polo hide below the tempest surface.
Players churn their legs under the water to stay afloat and quickly spring from the water. They use their hands, arms and shoulders below the choppy course to wrestle for position in front of the goal.
The currents also temporarily mask a source of solidarity and strength for Laguna Beach’s boys team, which has overcame obstacles to become a CIF-SS title contender in Division 2.
Concealed by the water during matches, the players’ maroon-colored swim trunks feature a pink ribbon flanked by the pink letters A and L. Those are the initials for Coach Trevor Lyle’s wife, Allyson Lyle.
The ribbon pays respect to Allyson’s intense 41/2-year battle with cancer.
“We thought (the emblem) would really help us unite,” Laguna Beach senior Judge Washer said. “We want to play every game for her.”
Allyson, 38, has endured breast cancer twice and underwent a double mastectomy, radiation treatments and hormone therapy, Trevor, 32, said.
In the summer, the Aliso Viejo couple learned the cancer spread to Allyson’s lungs, spine and pelvis.
Their fight against cancer has included trips to Germany and Mexico for treatment and a clinical trial, Trevor said.
“It’s been quite a journey,” the coach said after a recent match. “Luckily, she’s feeling better right now. Her breathing has improved, so we hope things are going the right way. … (She’s) very tough but very positive.”
The couple’s perseverance inspired Laguna Beach senior captains Washer and Camden Benson, along with senior goalie Gordon Pike, to place the ribbon on their suits.
After discussing the idea with teammates, Benson designed the logo on a computer and turned it over to a team mom for the final steps.
“We kind of surprised Trevor,” Pike said of the Breakers’ first-year coach.
“He was stoked. I don’t think he could believe it. It’s really cool that he realizes that we actually care for him because he cares for us so much.”
Trevor and Allyson have found support throughout the water polo community.
Longtime Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato and Nathan McConnell have assisted with coaching duties along with alumni such as Yoshi Andersen and Cara Borkovec.
The SET club program, where Trevor also coaches, lent its support, including a donation from the Evan Cousineau Memorial Cup.
Trevor, a Laguna Beach graduate, calls the communities “life savers.”
“There are hard times,” he said. “We realized that we can’t allow (cancer) to just dictate our lives and we have to keep on living. … It’s a good group of guys (at Laguna Beach). I love being around them.”
Laguna Beach has faced its own challenges. The Breakers, who have an 18-9 overall record, haven’t played one match this fall with all of their players available.
All-CIF utility junior Sebastian Jacobs, arguably the team’s top scoring threat, has been slowed by bicep tendonitis.
Center Joe Laptin, a 6-foot-5 senior, has been missed the season because of a shoulder injury. A fractured hand has kept out defender Kai Cameron.
Despite the setbacks, Laguna Beach – a three-time CIF champion in Division 3 - is undefeated against Division 2 opponents.
The Breakers were ranked No. 1 in Division 2 this week and could land the top seed today when the playoff pairings are announced at 10 a.m.
“In the games that matter,” Trevor said, “we come out to play. … (We) haven’t always had the prettiest games but found ways to win.”
The players credit some of their strength to the example set by their coach.
“He’s really strong and he’s definitely passed down some of his traits,” Washer said of Trevor, a former boys assistant coach under Damato. “He has so many things to do and he really finds time for us. It’s incredible. … We’re really, really grateful.”
The Breakers also are driven by the painful memory of a 9-8 loss against Capistrano Valley in the Division 3 semifinals last season.
If they wander off track, Benson and Washer quickly straighten the path.
Benson, a two-year captain, is a vocal leader. During a recent 15-12 overtime victory at Division 2-ranked Palos Verdes, the speedy attacker was heard from the pool deck encouraging teammates to answer Palos Verdes’ late surge.
“I was just reminding them that we have won every close game this season … and how good we are and how good we can be,” Benson said.
Judge, a utility player known for his passing, is a calming influence for the sometimes fiery squad.
“I’m definitely the type of guy people can lean a shoulder on if they’re having a bad day or a bad practice,” he said.
Laguna Beach’s talent certainly helps. Pike has developed into one of the top goalies in Orange County.
“Our most consistent player,” Trevor said. “Shots inside 5 meters, he’s one of the top goalies around. He has very quick hands.”
Sophomore attacker Colton Gregory has picked up the scoring void in Jacobs’ absence. He netted a season-high nine goals against Palos Verdes.
“He’s going crazy,” Washer said.
For all its success, Laguna Beach’s players and Trevor remain connected to their struggles. The pink ribbons are submerged during games, but the Breakers’ bond has been unsinkable.
And that’s a constant victory.
“(The adversity) brings us together in so many ways,” Benson said. “Everything we’ve been through has all added up to us just being such a mentally tough team and a together team. I really think that it’s going to help us (in) CIF.”
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