Graduation took its toll on the 2012 Laguna Beach High boys’ water polo team. Gone is the potent offensive punch of two-time CIF Player of the Year Nolan McConnell, the physical presence of two-time all-CIF center Samer Alkateb, and the in-cage dominance of three-time all-CIF goalkeeper Erik Henrikson. “Most people have written us off, saying it will be a down year for Laguna,” said Coach Ethan Damato.
Those who have followed Damato’s career as both girls and boys coach over the past several years, know it’s unwise to write his teams off so quickly. He loses quality players every season, yet he always seems to fill the holes and find a way into the post season. To that end, Damato’s been telling his guys, “Never underestimate the will of a champion.” It’s the team’s motto. It’s even printed on the their playbook.
If the loss of those key players wasn’t enough to overcome, the Breakers’ found out in the off-season that their two consecutive division III titles earned them a promotion to division II. “The move to D-II has definitely kicked up our training and conditioning level,” said Damato. “We know we will need to be in great shape to be able to have a chance to play in a D-II final.
The undaunted coach will look to senior captains Riley Thomas and Cameron Hauer to provide most of the offensive punch. Thomas scored 91 goals opposite McConnell’s team high 104 last season, and Hauer, with 49, had the team’s third highest total.
At 6’7”, 280 pounds, senior Duncan Lynde will more than fill in for Alkateb in the middle. “He is very athletic and has good hands,” said Damato. “Should be one of the top centers in our division.”
Finding someone to cover the cage and lead Laguna’s defense the way Henrikson did the past four years will be key. “Erik was a special player,” said Damato, “and it will be tough to replace his goalkeeping, as well as his leadership in and out of the water.
Senior Maxx McCarter, who has been Henrikson’s back up for the past three years, looks to be up to the challenge. He has 17 saves in the Breakers’ season-opening road win against division rival Villa Park last Friday.
Senior and co-captain Caleb Scott, who spent significant time in the water last season as the first player off the bench, will take over the role as primary defender. Sophomore Jack Dodson will also provide defensive support and more. “He can defend, post up, shoot, has good speed and really good vision as a passer,” said Damato.
What the preseason, fourth-ranked Breakers lack in size and experience, they make up for in speed and determination. Junior Trevor Collins and sophomore Nolan Del Toro are both smart, hard-working attackers with good quickness, while sophomore Cade Baldridge’s speed makes him one of the team’s top drivers and the designated sprinter.
But for Damato, the key to a CIF three-peat is how well his team performs “with our back’s against the wall.” If the seniors lead, the young guys step up, and everyone plays tough team defense, “we can beat anyone,” he said.