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Fryer: Laguna Beach missing stars, but still strong

STAFF COLUMNIST

Laguna Beach’s girls water polo team lost two great players but not its winning edge.

The Breakers started the season 11-0 - they suffered their first loss Thursday night. They are the No. 1 seed in this weekend's Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, which includes nine of the teams in the Orange County top 10 and much of the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 1 top 10.

Laguna Beach is No. 1 in the county and in Division 1.

Aria and Makenzie Fischer no longer play for the Laguna Beach team because they are on the U.S. national team. That team’s schedule precludes any participation with a high school team.

The two-time Division 1 champion Breakers are moving right along, even without the two mega-talented Fischers. Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said the team unity that was prevalent when the Fischers were on the roster continues.

“The emphasis on ‘group’ itself became greater,” said Damato, a Laguna Beach alum in his eighth season coaching water polo at the school. “We’re playing with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders, that we can still do it no matter who is on the team.”

It starts at the back – 5-foot-10 senior Holly Parker, who signed with USC, might be the best goaltender in Orange County. Sophomore goalie Thea Walsh is a standout, too. With such outstanding goaltending, Laguna Beach can make some risky steals that get its counterattack started.

“We have the defense that can get our fastbreak going,” Damato said. We’re a good pressing team. We can mix it up pretty well, which is a fun style to coach.”

Freshman Sophie Leggett is the leading scorer with 32 goals. Bella Baldridge, a junior, has scored 27 goals and senior UC Santa Barbara-signee Natalie Selin has 23.

The Breakers had their 63-game winning streak ended Thursday with an 11-7 loss to Dos Pueblos of Goleta in a nonleague game.

But that match and the Santa Barbara TOC are the kind of major midseason tests Damato wants for his team.

“We’ll get a good idea of what the Division 1 playoffs will look like,” Damato said.

Taking a look around Orange County high school sports:

• It’s Five Counties weekend. The mammoth, 64-man double-elimination wrestling tournament at Fountain Valley begins today. The medal round begins Saturday at 3 p.m. with finals expected to start at 5:30 p.m. (Like any tournament in any sport, events can run late.)

• Eleven head coaching vacancies were created in county football since the end of the 2015 regular season. Still open, and most of them still accepting applications: Capistrano Valley Christian, Esperanza, Huntington Beach, Northwood, Santa Margarita, and Segerstrom.

• Los Alamitos made an excellent hire by getting Ray Fenton as its football coach. He is a smart football man and a very positive person.

• The Santa Margarita coaching position will be filled on or around Feb. 1, according to school president Andy Sulick.

• The semi-educated thought here is that the Santa Margarita finalists include Paul Cronin, at Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, and Matt Logan of Centennial of Corona. Cronin has not replied to communication about the job (and that’s understandable because coaches don’t want to alienate their current players and the players’ parents). Logan said he is not in the Santa Margarita interviewees group but Santa Margarita just might make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Jim Hartigan received a contract extension at JSerra that keeps him as the school’s football coach through 2020.

• Former Dana Hills football head coach Todd Rusinkovich has been added to the football coaching staff at San Clemente.

• Tesoro All-County quarterback Devon Modster makes a recruiting visit to UCLA this weekend. He is a great athlete with a heck of an arm. He recently withdrew his commitment to Arizona.

• The football letter of intent signing period begins Feb. 3. A huge majority of top prospects, locally and nationally, will sign on that first day. That’s why it’s called “Signing Day.”

• The NFL is distributing gold footballs to high schools that have had alumni play in the Super Bowl. Pacifica got one recently. Tustin gets one today at halftime of its boys basketball home game. Tustin alum DeShaun Foster, one of the better Orange County football players and sportsmen of the past 25 years, and a Super Bowl 38 participant, makes the presentation.

• Orange Lutheran 5-foot-10 junior point guard Joseph Riley is one of the more improved players in county boys basketball. He’s got his high energy under better control this season and his 3-point shooting is more consistent. Lutheran 6-7 senior KaVaughn Scott puts the “power” in power forward at both ends of the floor.

• Servite is unlikely to finish among the top three in Trinity League boys basketball. The Friars, though, are good enough to win the championship of any other league in the county.

• Only the top three finishers in a six-team boys or girls basketball league like the Trinity receive guaranteed entry into the CIF-SS playoffs. If a division has fewer than 32 guaranteed entries it will include at-large teams, which are teams that did not finish high enough in their final standings to get guaranteed playoff berths.

• Guaranteed basketball playoff berths go to the top two finishers in four-team leagues like the Crestview and North Hills leagues, and to the top three finishers in five-team leagues like the Sea View and South Coast leagues.

Brad and Scott Pickler, super-successful softball and baseball coaches, respectively, at Cypress College, will be inducted into the Savanna Athletics Hall of Fame on Jan. 22 at halftime of Savanna’s boys basketball home game against Anaheim.

Contact the writer: sfryer@ocregister.com


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