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PHOTO COURTESY OF LAGUNA BEACH WATER POLO; TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
Members of Laguna Beach's girls water polo team make sandwiches for the homeless before practicing for Saturday's CIF-SS Division 1 final against San Marcos.

Laguna Beach players collecting assists on their road to the CIF final

STAFF WRITER

Laguna Beach’s Claire Sonne caught a pass during the CIF-SS Division 1 girls water polo semifinals and quickly moved the ball to Evan Tingler, who swiftly fed an open Isabel Riches for a goal. Sonne reacted in a way that has become the trademark of the Breakers’ remarkable season.

She flashed a smile so bright that it couldn’t be missed from the edge of the pool.

Top-seeded Laguna Beach (30-0) has celebrated assists more than the goals during its run to Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. final against San Marcos of Santa Barbara at the Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.

“That was a great moment. Definitely smile worthy,” Sonne said of Riches’ goal in a 14-4 victory against Dos Pueblos of Goleta on Wednesday night.

“It’s those kind of moments that we’re waking up at 5 a.m. for, putting in these long hours every single day, and just when it happens on such a big stage, (I) just can’t help but smile. … The big theme for our team this year has definitely been selflessness and just playing for each other.”

RELATED: Podcast preview of CIF-SS final w/ PV coach Patrick O'Brien

Olympian Aria Fischer celebrates assists. She splashes after slick connections with future Stanford teammate Bella Baldridge.

“She just wants to win,” Baldridge said of Fischer, who helped Team USA claim gold in Rio. “She’s just such a team player.”

In the semifinals, Laguna Beach recorded assists on 12 of its 14 goals. Baldridge had four assists, giving her a single-season school-record 90.

Baldridge traces some of the team’s success passing to the players’ long histories practicing and competing together. Baldridge and Fischer have been teammates since they were 7 or 8 years old at Laguna Beach Water Polo Club. Junior Sophia Lucas is another who joined the group at a young age.

All of Laguna Beach’s girls also play club year-round for SET.

“We’ve all grown up together,” Baldridge said. “That is really helpful for this year’s team because we know how to look for each other. We know where we’re going to be open.”

Sonne said the team’s tight connection outside the pool also is valuable. The Breakers met for lunch on Mondays throughout the winter and held team dinners before games.

On Thursday, the squad gathered at the pool before practice to make 125 sandwiches for the Friendship Shelter, which helps the homeless in Laguna Beach. The Breakers’ program later catered a dinner for the shelter and spent time talking to about 35 homeless adults.

“We wanted to find a way to give back to our community as a team,” said Sonne, who helped organize the function. “We’re all so fortunate and sometimes can lose sight of that in daily life. … To give back, it really made us feel fortunate and feel so much love.”

Add another assist to Laguna Beach’s impressive tally.

Contact the writer: dalbano@scng.com


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