Former Laguna Beach High water polo standouts Yoshi Andersen (’12) and Lexie Del Toro (’13) retuned to the familiar waters of their hometown pool this past Tuesday for a quick practice with the rest of their Harvard teammates on a 10-game West Coast road trip during spring break.
Del Toro had never been away from home for an extended period before heading off to Boston last fall. “It took going away back east to realize how amazingly special Laguna is and how blessed I am to have grown up here,” she said, with one of Boston’s coldest and snowiest winters still a fresh memory. “I was shocked with how much I missed the sun.”
Their trip began with four games over two days at San Diego State’s Aztec Invitational this past Saturday and Sunday. Harvard went 1-3, including a close 7-5 loss to the 18th ranked host team. Harvard played seventh ranked Cal State Northridge on Thursday, and will face second ranked UCLA tonight. They head back to Boston after tomorrow’s matchup against No. 17, UC Santa Barbara.
The team had Monday off, and Del Toro and Anderson made it count. “I compacted all of Laguna into one day,” said Del Toro, who took her friends out for Mexican food, something she says is hard to find in Boston. “That was my favorite part. Showing my friends a good burrito,” she said laughing.
The transition to Division 1 college water polo was smooth for both women, mainly because of their high school coach Ethan Damato’s competitive style of and high level of play calling, as well as Laguna’s typically tough schedules. “That played a huge role in preparing me for the college game,” said Andersen.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be coached by Ethan throughout the years,” said Del Toro, who sees a lot of similarities between Damato and Harvard Coach Ted Minnis.
Including Anderson and Del Toro, Damato has helped prepare more than a dozen players for Division 1 competition since he took over the girls’ program five years ago. The most notable is Olympic gold medalist Annika Dries (’09).
Many of Damato’s former players are competing for some of the best programs in the country, including Dries, Melena Masson (’12) and Lexie Ross (’10) at third ranked Stanford; Jessica Holechek (’11) and Sydney Saxe (’13) at eighth-ranked Princeton; Makenzie Baldridge (’13) at UCSB; and Jessica Shusko (’11) at 18th ranked Santa Clara. “The places the girls out of Laguna are going are insane,” said Andersen. “It’s just been incredible.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to be part of this water polo legacy at Laguna Beach High,” said Del Toro. “Those girls put us on the map.”
For a short time during a game between Princeton and Harvard on March 2, one third of the 12 position players in the pool were from Laguna, when Del Toro and Anderson faced off against Holechek and Saxe in a seesaw battle between the Ivy League rivals at Princeton’s pool won by the hosts 11-9.
Andersen tallied three goals, one assist and one steal, while Del Toro notched one goal and one assist. The Breaker reunion proved to be an enjoyable yet surreal experience. “It was really, really fun being there with Jessie and Sydney,” said Andersen.
For a brief moment near the end of the second period, Del Toro found herself guarding her best friend Holechek. “It was definitely strange seeing her in a different cap than I was,” said Del Toro. “We both looked at each other and started laughing.”
Andersen earned CWPA Southern Division second-team honors her freshman season at Harvard and was named the team’s rookie of the year, finishing with 61 goals, 42 assists and 54 steals.
As of March 17, the sophomore attacker’s 35 goals tied her for team best. And she leads outright with 20 assists. Del Toro has seen plenty of action in her first season so far, tallying 14 goals, 12 assists and 13 steals for the 9-9 Crimson.
On Saturday, March 1, just one day before those four former Breaker stars squared off in New Jersey, the current crop of Laguna legends-in-the-making were lining up against Newport Harbor for the Division 1 CIF championship in Irvine.
And you can be sure that Andersen and Del Toro were watching the action live over the Internet. “My Breaker pride is always high, but it was off the charts that night,” said Del Toro. “[The win] was definitely a testament to all the hard work Ethan has put in to the girls program.”
“I’m very happy and proud of them,” said Andersen. “I’ve never seen a team so deep and work so hard. They deserve everything they’ve accomplished.”
As a freshman on Laguna’s ’09 Division 2 championship team, Andersen was inspired by how Dries, the senior captain, realized her dream of playing for Stanford. With her own hopes of playing for Harvard, Andersen said, “I just stuck my nose in the books and worked really hard in water polo.”
It’s an approach Andersen thinks will serve those who follow her well. “I know that if they really want to, they will get to a lot of amazing places.”