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PHOTO, TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
Laguna Beach and freshman Sophie Leggett will take a 9-0 record into their nonleague match at Foothill on Thursday.

Water polo notes: New-look Laguna Beach enjoying challenges

OCVARSITY.COM

Laguna Beach girls water polo coach Ethan Damato always had an ace, or two, to call upon the past two seasons in Makenzie and Aria Fischer. This winter, he doesn’t have that luxury but the two-time defending CIF Division 1 champion continues to roll.

“The star of the team is the team,” Damato said of the Breakers (9-0) after they captured the Holiday Cup last week to extend their Orange County-record winning streak to 61 games.

“It’s a challenge (coaching) for sure but it’s a lot of fun. We’re a very deep team. … At the same time, you’re missing Aria and Makenzie, who are just going to take the game over.

“(Now) we got to rely a little bit more on everyone. That’s nerve-racking but also a lot of fun. It’s very rewarding, I feel, as a coach and hopefully for the group girls, too.”

With the Fischer sisters training and playing for the U.S. national team, Laguna Beach’s experienced players have adjusted to new roles.

UC Santa Barbara-bound senior Natalie Selin, for example, has increased her scoring output with 20 goals, which almost matches her output of 23 from last season.

Laguna Beach younger players also are contributing. Freshman Sophie Leggett leads the team in scoring with 25 goals – one more than junior Bella Baldridge -- while sophomores Evan Tingler and Sophia Lucas have combined for 19 goals and 16 assists.

Selin and Lucas also teamed for a key goal in the fourth period of the Breakers' 7-0 victory against Corona del Mar in the semifinals at the Holiday Cup.

Lucas made a steal at the perimeter while Selin drew an exclusion on the counterattack. Lucas then passed to Selin for a goal that gave the Breakers a 5-0 lead.

“There’s a lot of developing going on with new roles,” Damato said. “Everybody’s role has changed.”

Laguna Beach plays at second-ranked Foothill, whom they beat 10-4 in the finals of the Holiday Cup, on Thursday at 4 p.m. The Breakers are approaching the 68-game winning streak of Dos Pueblos of Goleta but the Southern Section record is 85 by Bell Gardens.

NEW STARS SURFACE

In another tribute to Laguna Beach's impressive start, consider that Damato guided the U.S. women's national youth team to the gold medal at the Youth Pan American Games in Jamaica in the summer without one member of the Breakers on the squad.

The U.S. team featured Corona del Mar goalie Heidi Ritner, Foothill defender Brooke Maxson, Foothill attacker Val Ayala, Mater Dei center Grace Thawley, Huntington Beach center Julia Rozolis-Hill and Rosary utility Bayley Weber among others.

Laguna Beach backup goalie Thea Walsh, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, was an alternate to the team.

"We don't have a lot of girls who do national team stuff, right now," Damato said. "A lot of them have been through the pipeline and through the prorgram."

DOUBLE FEATURE THURSDAY

No. 9 El Toro plays host to No. 8 San Clemente in another top game Thursday at 4 p.m. The South Coast League foes will meet for the first time since the CIF Division 2 final won last season by El Toro, 5-4.

The Tritons are coming off an 8-6 victory against Los Alamitos last week behind five goals and an assist by center Amber McCutcheon.

QUOTABLE

Corona del Mar coach Kevin Ricks on Ritner, the OCVarsity.com athlete of the week, who made 22 saves -- including several on tips -- against Laguna Beach: "She's a great athlete. She's got great lateral movement."

NOTES

The Falcon tournament started Monday at Santa Ana Valley, Tustin and Kennedy. The round-robin finals are Saturday at Valley. Ocean View is one of the teams to watch. ... Former CdM, Long Beach State and Bucknell assistant coach Kyle Gorham is now coaching at Santiago of Corona.


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