Prior to the start of the 2014 Holiday Cup, Laguna Beach High Coach Ethan Damato called the two-day event one of the "premiere" girls' water polo tournaments. It was also one of the major tournament titles, he said, that had eluded the Laguna program throughout the years.
That changed Saturday at Newport Harbor High.
In a key matchup of the season between the two of the top-ranked teams in CIF Southern Section Division 1, No. 1 Laguna defeated No. 3-ranked and tournament co-host Newport Harbor, 11-8.
In what Damato called a 'great team effort" turned in by his team in the title game, junior utility Makenzie Fischer scored a game-high five goals. Sophomore attacker Haley Evans scored twice, and single goals went to Bella Baldridge, Taylor Julson, Cara Borkovec, and Ally Jochim.
Sophomore goalie Holly Parker had seven saves in the second half.
Laguna had fallen behind, 6-5, early in the second half on a power-play goal by Newport's Heidi Fults. The Breakers, however, scored the next four goals. They clung to a 9-8 lead early in the fourth quarter, but went on to score the final three goals, two coming on consecutive scores by Fischer, of the game.
Laguna had failed to make the semifinal round of the tournament the previous two years. Damato said that was his team's No. 1 goal this year. The Breakers not only attained that goal by winning their first two games, they then advanced to the championship game by defeating second-ranked Corona del Mar, 11-6, in a Saturday semifinal.
The second goal, he said, was for the Breakers to win their first "big tournament."
"I was really proud of how the girls played all weekend," Damato said. "We got better as a team every game. In the CdM semifinal, we did a great job of starting fast, playing great defense and never looking back. The girls did a great job executing the game plan and than flat out made plays.
"In the finals, Newport came to play, and while things were not perfect by any means, we put our backs together and fought our way through it. Fisch (Makenzie Fischer) was great in both games and made it clear that she was going to get her shots and make her presence felt. Cara [Borkovec], Taylor [Julson] and Bella [Baldridge] were great in the semis, and Haley [Evans] and Natalie [Selin] really stepped up the final for us.
"Our entire team contributed and played in every game. It was a great weekend for our program."
The Breakers (9-0) started their tourney title drive with a 19-3 drubbing of Carlsbad Jan. 3. Fischer posted seven goals and Julson and Baldridge both scored three times. Later that day, they routed Riverside Poly, 21-8, again getting seven goals from Fischer and six from Baldridge.
In Saturday's semifinal round, Laguna jumped out to a 4-1 first-quarter lead on Corona del Mar, and led, 7-3, at the half en route to its 11-6 win. Fischer had four goals, Baldridge and Borkovec both scored three goals, and Parker had eight saves.
The Holiday Cup is the first of three major tournaments for the Breakers this year. They begin play Jan. 17 at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. Early next month, they play at the Irvine SoCal Championships.
"This is the first time we have won a tournament of this caliber," Damato said. "It feels great and says a lot about the growth of our program and the strength of this year's team.
"With that said, this was just one accomplishment on our list of goals for this year. We are going to enjoy the win and get back to work. We have Foothill Friday at home, and the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions next week, so while this feels great, we have a lot of season left and a lot of polo still to be played."
Laguna faces another stiff challenge at home Friday (3:30 p.m.) against Foothill. The fourth-ranked Knights went 2-2 at the Holiday Cup and dropped a close game to Newport Harbor (4-3) in the semifinals, and lost, 6-3, in the third-place game to Corona del Mar.
"I think they are one of the best [teams] in the division and we will prepare for them accordingly," Damato said of the Knights. "They are physical and well-coached, I expect a battle on Friday. This has become quite a heated rivalry over the years so it should be a lot of fun."
"Fun," is also how Damato described the upcoming Orange Coast League season, which begins Wednesday for the defending champion Breakers. They open league play at 3:15 p.m. at Saddleback.
"We are excited because that will be Mia Salvini's first game playing with us, so Wednesday will be the first day with our full team in the water," Damato said.
Salvini, a sophomore utility player and transfer student from Mater Dei, had to sit out the first portion of the 2013-14 season.