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Laguna Beach girls water polo knocks off No. 1 Foothill at Newport Invitational

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NEWPORT BEACH — Laguna Beach’s girls water polo team happily injected more parity into an already wide open race in the Open Division.

The Breakers want to be considered major contenders, and made their intentions know Friday night by defeating top-ranked and top-seeded Foothill 10-9 to capture Group A at the Newport Invitational at Newport Harbor High.

Laguna Beach (16-6) never trailed and led by as many as four goals in the third period against the Knights (18-4), ranked No. 1 in Orange County and CIF-SS Division 1.

For the playoffs, the top eight teams in Division 1 are expected to be pulled into the Open, which likely won’t have a dominant favorite even after Saturday’s tournament final. The semifinal pairings will be Laguna Beach-The Bishop’s and Foothill-San Marcos.

“It’s fun when so many teams have the chance to win (the Open Division),” said Laguna Beach sophomore Presley Jones, who had assists. “There definitely is more parity this year than in years past. It’s all about which teams peak at the right time.

“We just know that with any team, we can go in and play a close game. We just have to go in with the mindset of one quarter at a time, never take your foot off the gas because anyone can win.”

Laguna Beach showed the level of focus on the eventual game-winning goal. After Foothill trimmed the Breakers’ lead to 9-7 with 3:32 left in the fourth, Jones threaded a pass to Ava Knepper for a goal on the ensuing possession. It was the Breaker second strike of the match on an after-goal play.

“She is a rock for our team and she is mature beyond her years,” Laguna Beach first-year coach Claire Sonne said of Jones. “Someone we really trust controlling the ball for us and making reads.”

Laguna Beach showed plenty of chemistry. Five players scored two goals apiece in Knepper, Myha Pinto, Charlotte Riches, Lauren Short and Kara Carver, another sophomore. The Breakers also went 4 for 5 on the power-play.

But the area that pleased Sonne the most was defense. The Breakers allowed only two natural goals and held U.S. national team player Rachel Gazzaniga (USC) to one goal.

USC committed goalie Lauren Schneider anchored the defense with 10 saves, including one against a penalty shot in the second period, in her duel against UC Irvine committed goalie Rachel Kirchner of Foothill (10 saves).

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