Jackie Cenan has been a key player for the Laguna Beach High girls' basketball team.

Jackie Cenan has been a key player for the Laguna Beach High girls' basketball team. (Don Leach | Coastline Pilot / February 14, 2013)

Last time at this year, the Laguna Beach girls' basketball team was putting away its gear following a tough, winless season.

What a turnaround the program has seen in 12 months.

This week, the Breakers were tuning up their gear, their game, in anticipation of their opening game in the CIF Southern Section Division 4-A playoffs at Brentwood. The score from Thursday's first-round game wasn't available at press time.

The winner of Thursday's game advances to a 7 p.m. second-round game Saturday.

Laguna had earned the third and final automatic playoff berth from the Orange Coast League by defeating Costa Mesa, 43-30, in a one-game playoff Jan. 8 at Saddleback High. The Breakers and Mustangs had tied for third place during the regular league season.

Costa Mesa still was able to garner an at-large bid to the Division 4-AA tournament.

"While we didn't make it easy on ourselves by having to go to a playoff game against Costa Mesa, the hard work made it all that more rewarding," Laguna Coach Mark Lewis said. "We once again played very stingy defense, holding Costa Mesa to only 30 points wherein they scored in double figures in only one quarter [the fourth]. We did a much better job taking care of the ball than we did during the home loss to Costa Mesa last Wednesday (Feb. 6). We handled their full-court press well throughout the game just as we had done when we defeated them in January at their place.

"And with the win, we secured third place in league and the final automatic qualifying place for CIF. We are excited to have achieved one of the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season."

Freshman forward Jackie Cenan, who missed the Feb. 6 game against Costa Mesa due to illness and still "wasn't 100%" Feb. 8, Lewis said, still posted a game-high 18-points. Kylie Even scored nine points and Jane Wallin scored eight.

Cenan enters the postseason averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.

"While Jackie has had an unbelievable season, especially for a freshman, she could not have done it alone," Lewis explained. "Our team is so well balanced. We have a presence inside led by Jane Wallin, Jackie's talent in the mid-range game and on the offensive glass, our outside game led by freshman Alexandra Lewis, who leads the team in three-pointers, senior Kylie Even, and junior Mandi Wisbaum.

"But with all of our offensive weapons, the cornerstone of the success of our season has been built on our defense, which includes a tenacious, stifling approach that utilizes the speed and quickness of players such as junior Kyra Humphries, Jackie [Cenan], junior Kendra Overstreet, and freshman Sydney DeCarlo out front, backed up by a strong low-post presence spearheaded by Jane [Wallin] with her nearly six blocked shots per game, Alexandra [Lewis] leading the team in the defensive rebound category, and strong contributions off the bench from players like freshman Francesca Cecutti, sophomore Katie Acosta and junior Sarina Strickland.

Mark Lewis said that "every player" has contributed to the team's success, whether it be on the court, during games or at practice. Those contributions have come, he said, from senior Maddy Knutson and freshmen Murphy Thompson, Marisa Mazza, Ashley Brown and Sabrina Sanchez, who complete the team.

"We are a well-balanced team with multiple weapons from multiple spots," Lewis said.

Laguna took a 19-5 record into Thursday's game at Brentwood, the tournament's No. 9-seed and the third-place team from the Alpha League. Last year, the Breakers were winless.

At 19 wins entering the week, the 2012-13 Breakers already had the distinction of compiling the most wins in a single season in program history. Lewis said his team's hard work during the off-season, has paved the way to its current success.

"This year our team experienced one of the biggest turnarounds," Lewis added. "From 0-18 last season, to 19-5, so far, this season, a third-place finish in league, champions of two tournaments, and a berth in CIF, this team has truly transformed itself into a winner.

"All in all, I would consider this a hugely successful season both in the win-loss column as well as in the team development area. We really came together as a team and I believe the girls really bonded and enjoyed their experiences together. I expected this team to certainly be better than last season, but I must say that we exceeded all of our expectations. This has truly been a magical season."

michael.sciacca@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeSciacca