Without former Breakers Annika Dries, Taylor Dodson and Natasha Schulman, who are now scoring goals for Stanford, Cal and UCLA respectively, Laguna’s water polo team has struggled to keep up with the offensive standard set by last year’s squad. With nine matches in the books through Dec. 31, this year’s team is averaging a little more than half of the nearly 14 goals a game it netted last season while amassing a school record 498 in 36 contests.
So how have they beaten six of their first nine opponents and put up a good fight in losing to three of the toughest teams in the state, or for that matter, the country? With defense. “Our defense is phenomenal,” said junior Etianne Manetta, who, as goal keeper, is the last line of that defense.
“It makes a big difference when you got a goalie in there who’s confident in her abilities,” said assistant coach and former Laguna goalie Lina Moore of her protégé.
A four-time all league and three-time all CIF standout with the Breakers from ’00 to ’03, Moore is in her second year with the team. She has been working with Manetta ever since she started minding the net full time last year as a sophomore, when then-senior goalie Sarah Zuziak broke her thumb in an early-season scrimmage.
“Edy had to step up and prove herself as a varsity goalie, and she did,” said Moore. “We won a CIF championship last year, and she was a big part of that.”
Some head coaches might panic when a key player, like a goalie, is lost to injury. But head Coach Ethan Damato took it in stride. “When the injury occurred, I felt comfortable that we would be able to compete for a CIF championship with Edy in the cage,” he said.
Damato’s confidence in the young Manetta wasn’t a product of blind faith. “Edy has been a phenomenal goalie since she was 11 years old, when I first started watching her and coaching her,” he said. Yet even Damato was surprised with how well the sophomore handled the pressure of CIF competition.
At the age of six, Manetta, like most of her Breaker teammates, began playing the sport in the Laguna age-group program under the guidance of coach Chad Beeler. She played the field until she was 11, when she decided she was “not a very fast swimmer compared to the other girls.”
That realization gave her the impetus to try deflecting goals rather than scoring them. And she has been blocking them in bunches. In the season’s second game, Manetta was like a wall, racking up 18 saves in a 6-4 victory over Edison. Two games later, she swatted away another 14 balls in a victory over San Clemente.
“I played water polo for eight years, three at the college level, and I never had 18 saves in a game. I don’t think any goalie at Laguna Beach High School has ever made 18 saves in a game.” said Moore. “She’s just on a great path right now, and I hope that it continues.”
Manetta appreciates the personal attention she receives from Moore and credits her with correcting a lot of bad advice Manetta received over the years on how to play the position from coaches who never played it. “I’ve always grown up playing water polo with coaches that don’t actually play goalie,” said Manetta. “It’s nice having a coach to myself.”
Through the team’s first nine contests, Manetta has 66 saves and 11 steals, and Breaker opponents have scored fewer than six goals a game over that stretch. Damato attributes Manetta’s success to her style of play and natural abilities. “She is very aggressive and instinctual in the cage,” he said. “She knows how to play the game and she knows how to win.”
Manetta admits that some of her saves, like any goalie’s, are just a matter of being in the right place at the right time or choosing to move left rather than right. “Half the time when I block the ball it’s kind of like shocking,” she said. “I feel like a lot of it is luck.”
But when a goalie consistently blocks as many shots as Manetta, there is a lot more in play than luck. She said that over years of studying the subtle nuances of her opponents, how they move their shoulders or hold the ball, she is able to make an educated guess as to when the shot is coming and where it’s going to go.
“[Consistency’s] the hardest thing to teach at the high school level,” said Moore. “And she’s shown, especially this year, that she can [be consistent].”
If Laguna can maintain its defensive intensity and pick up its offensive production, Manetta likes her team’s chances to repeat as CIF champs. And a big factor in a successful post-season run will be their team unity, which comes from years of playing the game together.
“That’s definitely one of our team’s advantages,” said Manetta. “All the girls, for the most part, are like really close. We kind of know how each other plays inside out. It really helps us play cohesively.”
Manetta’s prowess in the net has already garnered some attention from division I colleges, but she hasn’t decided whether she will follow the recent run of Laguna grads into the ranks of college water polo. Her main goal is to find the right school to meet her academic needs. She wants to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist.