The California Interscholastic Federation moved Laguna Beach High School’s girls water polo program up to Division I for the next two years. The move will be re-evaluated after the 2011-12 season, and, depending on how well the Breakers preform in post-season play, they could end up back in Division II, where they competed for the past eight years.
The move was not entirely unexpected, according to Head Coach Ethan Damato, a member of the CIF advisory committee and privy to the decision-making process.
CIF continuously monitors teams that compete in post season to maintain a competitive balance within divisions. Every two years, the governing body uses a point system to rate each league’s performance and determine whether a re-alignment is warranted.
But CIF officials also consider school size and location. Since the average enrollment of top D-I schools last year exceeded 2,400 students, double Laguna’s size, size doesn’t appear to have been a factor in the decision to move the Breakers up.
It was Laguna’s back-to-back finals appearances and CIF championship in 2009 that earned the team the subsequent bump to division I. “Based on that I think it’s pretty fair,” said Damato by email.
Nevertheless, Damato said, “I think [the move is] very tough for us with the size of our school and our team. At the same time it says a lot about our program and our success over the last four years.”
Even before Laguna joined the top CIF division, Damato always entered the toughest tournaments to keep the Breakers sharp and prepare them for post-season play. This year is no different.
Ranked sixth in CIF’s Division I pre-season poll, the Breakers will face six top 10 D-I opponents this season. Laguna may play several of the top teams more than once, depending on brackets in three non-league tournaments.
In years past, a win over one of those D-I teams was often an unexpected luxury on the way to CIF success. This year such victories will be a necessity. “I think we are one of the top teams in the division if we play to our potential,” said Damato.
Laguna returns all but one starter, Lexie Ross (’10), from last year’s CIF division II runner up squad. Expected to lead the Breakers back to post season with her tough style and smart play is senior and first team all-CIF defender Jessica Shusko. “I think she’s one of the top defenders in the country,” said Damato.
Another component of an experienced and determined Breaker’s team is senior and Princeton recruit Jessie Holechek, also named first team all-CIF last season after leading the team in goals, assists and steals. “She is a great shooter and a very versatile player,” said Damato.
Senior goalkeeper Etianne Manetta will start her third straight year in the cage. Last season she swatted away 218 would-be goals, including a school record 18 in a 6-4 victory against division I Edison (Huntington Beach). Her best performances always seemed to come in the biggest games, and she was rewarded for her play with second team all-CIF honors.
Junior Yoshi Andersen, another second team all-CIF performer, has been a starter since the beginning and appears to have plenty of untapped scoring potential ready to unleash on unsuspecting opponents. She notched six of the Breakers 12 goals in their season-opening victory over Mater Dei.
Last season’s scorers, senior Riley Duncan, junior Melena Masson, senior Lida Degroote, and sophomores Lexie Del Toro and Alia Manetta, have another year of experience under the caps and give the Breakers the depth they will need against Dos Pueblos, Los Alamitos, Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor, and other top teams in their new division.
“It’s a new challenge, and we are meeting it head on,” said Damato of the division change. Regardless of what the season holds, he said, “Our goal to be back in a CIF championship game is still there.”