So far, so good, for the Laguna Beach High girls' water polo team.
Having entered the season with a top ranking — No. 1, in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll, the Breakers have had to earn that lofty status in the first few weeks of the season. In their last three outings, they have faced teams that are ranked among the best in both Division 1 and 2.
Wednesday at the Laguna pool, the Breakers took on Mater Dei in a key nonleague match. The Monarchs entered the game with a No. 2 ranking in Division 2, and were undefeated.
Not any more.
Laguna rallied from a one-goal deficit to outscore Mater Dei, 3-1, in the fourth quarter, and went on to emerge with an 8-7 victory. The score was knotted, 3-3, at halftime, but the Monarchs (6-1) would take a 6-5 lead into the final quarter.
The Breakers trailed by two goals on five different occasions in the game, including once in the fourth quarter, but Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said his team "never stopped fighting."
Laguna junior defender Taylor Julson tied for game-high scoring honors with three goals. Sophomore defender Ally Jochim and sophomore attacker Natalie Selin both scored twice, and senior utility Cara Borkovec scored once.
Sophomore Holly Parker and senior Jenna Knott combined for 14 saves in the cage.
The Breakers showed their roster depth Wednesday, overcoming the absence of two key players, sisters Makenzie and Aria Fischer, to get the win and improve to 4-0 overall.
Makenzie Fischer played this week on the USA Women's Senior National Team at the World Cup Qualifying Tournament, and Aria Fischer had her tonsils removed earlier in the week, Damato said.
"We knew in order to beat a very good Mater Dei team, the rest of our girls would need to step up and fill a bigger role," Damato said. "Cara Borkovec and Ally Jochim did a great job matching up with Mater Dei's best girls, and both scored big goals for us, as well.
"In the second half we played great team defense and were able to keep the game close going into the fourth [quarter]."
Key defensive stops in the fourth quarter by the Breakers led to big, fastbreak goals. The winning score came with 3:20 left in the game on a fastbreak score by Selin off a feed from freshman attacker Bella Baldridge.
"Our goalies did a great job," Damato said. "Jenna [Knott] had some big stops in the first half, and Holly [Parker] was outstanding, racking up 11 saves in two quarters of play."
Laguna is idle until Dec. 31 when it takes on San Clemente in a 10 a.m. nonleague game at Capistrano Valley High.
The Breakers went to Irvine High Tuesday and claimed a 1-0 shutout victory over the Vaqueros in nonleague play.
In a performance that Coach Bill Rolfing said was a "much-improved passing game," with "good structure at the back and better ball possession" than his team showed last week at the Ocean View Winter Classic, the Breakers defense allowed only four shots on goal and goalie Kylie George registered her third shutout of the season.
Sophomore forward Katelyn Carballo scored from 20 yards out off a clearance by an Irvine defender. Pressure on the Irvine defense by Laguna forwards Paige Vitolo and Greer Jacobs led to the scoring opportunity.
The win put Laguna at 2-3-1 overall, and Rolfing called it "an important and successful response to a very competitive tournament weekend."
Laguna completed play Saturday at the Ocean View Winter Classic. The Breakers fell, 3-0, to La Mirada, and later played Cypress to a scoreless tie, in matches played at La Mirada High.
Rolfing said George "performed brilliantly," to help the Breakers preserve the tie against Cypress.
The two-weekend tournament started Dec. 7. On the opening day, Laguna put up strong battles against both Brea Olinda and Placentia Valencia, but was edged, 1-0, in both games.
La Mirada, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 2, went on to win the tournament championship. Brea Olinda finished second, and Valencia took fourth.
Tustin took third place. In its season opener Dec. 3, Laguna went to Tustin and shut out the Tillers, 3-0.
The Breakers played a nonleague home game Thursday against San Juan Hills. The score wasn't available at press time.
The Breakers slipped to 2-4-2 overall Wednesday after dropping a 3-1 nonleague match at Aliso Niguel. Junior forward Willy Wheeler scored for Laguna, which trailed, 1-0, at the half.
"The way we started the game, was very disappointing," Laguna Coach Dan Richards said. "We looked slow and lethargic and basically gifted them the opening goal. We finally started to pick it up with about 15 minutes left in the first half and started to get a rhythm going."
Wheeler scored off a nice cross by Mike Santana in the second half to pull the Breakers within 2-1.
"We had some great momentum and chances once it went 2-1, and it's unfortunate we couldn't make it count," Richards said. "The second half was much better with us competing well and really beginning to move the ball around well. The only real negative was us giving away such a sloppy second goal early in the half. As the game went on and we pushed more numbers forward, the boys started to put some real pressure on Aliso and ask some serious questions of their back line."
"Overall, I was very happy with the second-half performance and felt the final score wasn't really a fair reflection of the overall play in the game."
Wheeler and Tommy Ressler scored for Laguna in its 4-2 loss Monday at Dana Hills. In a nonleague game Dec. 13 against Tesoro, senior Chris Tellez scored in the second half for the Breakers but the visiting Titans netted three second-half goals, and went on to score a 3-1 win.
The Breakers play their final match of 2013 Friday, when they go to Santiago for a 3 p.m. nonleague game.
Laguna returns to action Jan. 8, at home against Saddleback Valley Christian in its final nonleague match of the season.
CIF Weekly Rankings
Girls' Water Polo: Laguna Beach, No. 1, Division 1.
Boys' Basketball: Laguna Beach, No. 10, Division 4AA.