Legendary NFL coach George Halas once said, “Defense wins championships.” After a 1-0 shut out win over Godinez on Guyer Field last Monday, the Laguna Beach High girl’s soccer team had yielded only two goals in their first nine league games and was on the verge of its first league title in the program’s 31-year history. A home victory over Saddleback this past Wednesday would clinch the championship.
The Breaker offense failed to score a goal in the team’s first five games against a tough lineup of much larger schools. The defense also struggled early, giving up 14 goals over that span. Their early season woes left the girls “low on confidence,” said Coach Bill Rolfing, “but we came roaring out of that.”
“Roaring” may be an understatement, as Rolfing’s Breakers have since gone 9-1-5 to bring their season totals to 9-6-5 overall and 5-0-4 in Orange Coast league play. As of last Monday, Laguna hadn’t lost a game since before Christmas.
Those early losses toughened up a young team. “I think the preseason games definitely benefitted me as well as the other players,” said freshman goalkeeper Kylie George, who began to doubt her abilities during that stretch. “My teammates helped me keep my head,” she said.
Much of their growth has come from just playing together and believing in one another. “We got used to each other, and we work together a lot better now,” said Amy Hewlett, another first year defender and one of four freshmen that regularly start for Rolfing’s club.
“Amy is just a terrific player,” said Rolfing. “Fast in the back. Really coordinated.”
With Hannah Magstadt the only senior among the five that also includes sophomore Tessa Hopper, the Breaker defense may be short on experience but not on talent. All arrived at Laguna ready to play, with considerable club and AYSO resumes. “There’s a real fire with this team,” said Rolfing. “They play hard. They play spirited.”
George arrived in Laguna last summer from Rancho Palos Verdes with high hopes and different expectations. After playing the field for most of her AYSO and club careers, she moved to goalkeeper in her final year of club, though she still yearned to be free of the cage.
When George’s club coach alerted Rolfing to the special talent that was headed his way, the intrigued Breaker coach decided to have a look for himself. “It was real nice to have her walk onto the field this fall,” said Rolfing earlier this season.
“Coming into high school, I was looking forward to being in the field,” said George. “But [Laguna] needed a keeper, so I stepped up and took that opportunity.”
“She knows what she’s doing,” said junior defender Sarah Hewlett. “We all trust her, which is a huge factor, I think.”
The Breakers found their stride and each other during a three-game road trip during their semester break. They won two of those games and tied the other. “Our team really has a lot of chemistry now,” said Sarah. “We’ve just realized how much potential we have.”
“[The road trip] was definitely a turning point,” said George. “We felt how awesome it was to win.”
Since that trip, Laguna’s offense, led by Marina Paul’s 16 scores, has really picked up the pace, netting 29 goals over the past 15 games, including Paul’s header over the Godinez goalkeeper last Monday to keep the Breakers undefeated in league play.
While Laguna’s strikers are beginning to find the back of the net with more frequency, their opponents might as well be playing against a brick wall. Over their last 13 games, the Breakers have given up only four goals. Their 23 total goals allowed in 20 games as of Monday is the best defensive performance since the 2009 squad allowed a record low of 20 in 25 games.
Sarah credits the team’s growth and confidence, especially the defense, to Rolfing and his assistant Amanda Eastwood. “They really focus on the positives,” she said. “They help us fix mistakes, but, for the most part, they encourage us.”
George hopes her team’s unprecedented success will carve out a niche for soccer in a school and community that traditionally lean toward water polo and volleyball. “Soccer will finally get, like, the respect it deserves,” she predicted. “People will hopefully come to the games now.”
Hours after the Godinez game, George was still excited about the impact the historic win would have. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow at school,” she said.