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Spartans stifled in semifinals

Water Polo: Old foe Laguna Beach, star player too much for La CaƱada, which falls in Division III semis.

November 17, 2011|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com

IRVINE — All season long, the La Cañada High boys' water polo team relied on a balanced offense, while Laguna Beach has leaned on its goal-scoring standout Nolan McConnell for offense.

The Breakers' offensive strategy proved more effective when both teams met up in the Southern Section Division III semifinals at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine Wednesday.

McConnell had a game-high five goals and drew double-teams all game, which opened things up for his teammates, in a 14-5 Laguna Beach victory.

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The Spartans had faced the top-seeded Breakers once before this season when they traveled to Laguna Beach on Oct. 11. Laguna Beach pulled out a narrow, overtime victory, 14-11, without McConnell. The result was much different with him.

"They had their best player in this game, they didn't have him last time," La Cañada Coach Steve Neville said. "That's the one and only thing that was different.

"[McConnell] literally creates everything possible in every aspect of the game. He's a great defender, a great passer, a great shooter. He's unstoppable pretty much."

Laguna Beach Coach Ethan Damato felt much more comfortable having his star in the water.

"[McConnell's] our best player, I think he's the best player in the country," Damato said. "It's nice to game plan with him in the water.

"I felt the matchups they presented were a lot scarier without him in the water. I thought if we played well we could win by a lot. We knew if we didn't they're a tough, scrappy team and we were expecting a battle."

La Cañada struggled offensively the entire game, committing 11 turnovers, firing 12 shots off target and only managing to score twice on seven six-on-five chances. Erik Henrickson, Laguna's goalie, also had an impressive 15 saves in the game. Wolfie Paulson, the Spartans' goalie, had 10 saves in the game.

"We had our opportunities early and throughout the game, they just didn't go in," Neville said. "We just didn't put our opportunities away."

The match was still the closest Laguna Beach has played so far this postseason, as the Breakers defeated Temple City, 21-1, and Mira Costa, 19-7, in the first and quarterfinal rounds, respectively.

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