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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 3:54 am | Fair 51º

Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, The Lab, and American Riviera Bank
Water Polo

Gold Medalist Aria Fischer, No. 1 Laguna Beach Overpower San Marcos, 12-5

Aria Fischer (12) of Laguna Beach gets inside San Marcos defender Piper Smith to tap in a pass from a teammate for a goal. Fischer scored five goals in a 12-5 victory. Click to view larger
Aria Fischer (12) of Laguna Beach gets inside San Marcos defender Piper Smith to tap in a pass from a teammate for a goal. Fischer scored five goals in a 12-5 victory. (Javier Delarosa / Noozhawk photo)

Ethan Damato knows he’s a lucky coach to have an Olympic gold medalist on his Laguna Beach High girls water polo team.

Aria Fischer, a member of the Olympic-champion U.S. Women’s National Team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last summer, is part of an outstanding squad at Laguna. Fischer and the CIF-Southern Section’s top-ranked team in Division 1 didn’t disappoint against No. 3 San Marcos in a tune-up before this weekend’s 18th annual Santa Barbara High Tournament of Champions.

Fischer scored a game-high five goals and held San Marcos star Paige Hauschild scoreless in a 12-5 win by the Breakers on Thursday night at the Santa Barbara pool.

“She’s a great kid, a great leader,” Damato said of Fischer. “We missed her last year, so we’re happy to have her back. She’s a special player. She’s got great size and speed and quickness, and she’s really explosive. She’s been playing the game for a long time at a high level and she really understands how to do it.”

Fischer is having a blast playing for the Breakers.

“It’s been awesome,” she said. “I received a really warm welcome coming back to my high school team. I’m really excited to be playing with them — this team is really special, so it’s a really nice thing to be a part of.”

San Marcos coach Chuckie Roth was impressed with the Olympian.

“Aria is a strong, young girl,” he said. “She did a good job on Paige, and Paige is a handful. We had a hard time making the passes under pressure and that’s what really slowed us down a bit.  That’s what we need to work on, because we couldn’t get the ball to her as much as we needed to.”

Damato knows all about Hauschild, so there was no question he was putting Fischer on her. 

“Of course, we’re not going to shy away from that matchup,.” he said with a smile.

"She’s a really hard player to guard and to be guarded by,” said Fischer of her teammate on the Team USA Youth National Team that played in the FINA Women’s Youth World Championship last month in New Zealand. “It’s always a fun match-up when we get to play each other and it’s always hard to play her.”

Fischer made it hard for the San Marcos defense in the hole set. Her size advantage, strength and experience enabled her to post up on Royals defenders and score goals or draw fouls. Her first goal was a back-hander from 2 meters, giving the unbeaten Breakers (10-0) a 2-0 lead. She scored two more on penalty shots after drawing exclusions on drives, ripped a shot after a quick restart and fought off defenders to score her fifth goal for an 11-5 advantage.

It’s not all Fischer, though. The Breakers are strong all over the pool. Bella Baldridge was a thorn in the side of San Marcos with her high pressure defense, passing and scoring. And, goalie Thea Walsh played spectacular in the cage, stopping 12 shots, including a couple from point-blank range and a penalty shot. She, too, was on the Youth National Team in New Zealand.

Baldridge scored after a steal and assist by Alana Evans for a 5-0 Laguna lead at 3:24 of the second quarter.

San Marcos (5-1) got on the board on a power play. Freshman Cassidy Miller fed senior Brittany Prentice in the two-meter area and Prentice beat Walsh for the goal at the 2:18 mark.

Baldridge rushed the goal and scored on a rebound before Megan Musick, another San Marcos freshman, scored from long range to make it 6-2 at halftime.

Roth said playing Laguna was a good test for his team, which came into the game with only five games under its belt. 

“Right now they’re the best team, so that’s pretty good,” he said of his team’s play. “It was a good test for us. I thought we responded well to a lot of things. We have a lot of areas for growth. We had four freshmen in the water at different points of the night. Honestly, I think that’s the second best score we’ve had against that school since I’ve been coaching at San Marcos.”

He added: “We’ve practiced so much that to get a game like that under our belt is going to make us better.”

The seven-goal win was the first under double digits for Laguna Beach this season.

Lili Akin got the Royals off to a good start in the third period, scoring from long range. But Laguna Beach responded with a penalty-shot goal from Fischer and a lob by Sophia Lucas for an 8-3 lead. Lucas and Baldridge each scored three goals.

The Breakers were leading 9-4 when Hauschild got inside and took a shot that trickled past Walsh, but Fischer backed up her goalie and kept the ball from completely crossing the line.

Ella Prentice made it 10-5 and the Royals had a chance to cut the deficit to four near the end of the third period. Hauschild got the ball on the side and fired a shot on goal, but Walsh rose up and blocked the ball like a volleyball middle blocker.

Fischer and Lucas scored for the Breakers in the fourth period.

Laguna Beach, the top-seeded team in the Tournament of Champions, opens against Martin Luther King of Riverside at 1 p.m. at Santa Barbara. 

San Marcos faces Newport Harbor in its opener at 2:30 p.m. at SBHS.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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