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Water Polo

Olympic Champion Aria Fischer of Laguna Beach Playing in SBHS Water Polo Tournament of Champions

Tourney features top teams and players in Southern California

Olympics water polo gold medalist Aria Fisher leads top-seeded Laguna Beach into the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. The photo is of Fischer playing for Team USA at the Youth World Championship in New Zealand last month. Click to view larger
Olympics water polo gold medalist Aria Fisher leads top-seeded Laguna Beach into the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. The photo is of Fischer playing for Team USA at the Youth World Championship in New Zealand last month. (Peter Neushul photo)

Over its 18 years, the Santa Barbara High girls water polo Tournament of Champions has produced several top-level collegiate players and U.S. Olympic team members.

Three players from the gold-medal winning U.S. Women’s National Team at the Rio Olympics played on tournament championship teams when they attended local high schools: Kami Craig at Santa Barbara and Kiley Neushul and Sami Hill at Dos Pueblos.

This year’s ToC will feature its first current Olympic champion in the pool. Aria Fischer of Laguna Beach was a teammate of Craig, Neushul and Hill on the senior national team that beat Italy for the gold in Brazil over the summer.

Fischer’s undefeated Laguna Beach Breakers (9-0) are the top seeds for the 24-team tournament that begins Thursday with play-in games and continues through Saturday at the Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and San Marcos pools.

First-round action begins Friday at 12:30 p.m., with matches continuing every hour through 7:30 p.m. The semifinals are Saturday at 11:10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., and the championship is slated for 4:35 p.m., at SBHS.

Fischer took a year off playing at Laguna Beach to train with the national team. At 17, she became the youngest U.S. female athlete on a team sport to win an Olympics gold medal.

The Stanford-bound Fischer also played at the FINA Women’s Youth World Water Polo Championship last month in New Zealand. Her trip to Santa Barbara will reunite her with Team USA teammates Paige Hauschild of San Marcos and Abbi Hill, Ryann Neushul and Jewel Roemer of Dos Pueblos.

Fischer, Hauschild and their Laguna Beach and San Marcos teams will square off in a pre-tournament match on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the SBHS pool. Laguna Beach is the top-ranked team in CIF-Southern Section Division 1 and a recent winner of the Newport Holiday Cup. The Breakers are beating teams by more than 12 goals. San Marcos, which has played only five games, is No. 3 in the poll.

The Tournament of Champions is stacked with outstanding players. There are total of seven from the Youth National Team roster (the others are Valerie Ayala of Foothill and goalie Thea Walsh of Laguna Beach),  six returning All-CIF Division 1 first-team players —Hauschild, Neushul, Hill, Grace Hawley (Mater Dei), Myna Simmons (Orange Lutheran) and Bella Baldridge of Laguna Beach — and nine who made the second team in 2016, including Brittany Prentice of San Marcos and DP’s Sophie Leggett and Toni Shackelford; Leggett played at Laguna Beach last year.

After Laguna Beach, Dos Pueblos (11-1) is the ToC's No. 2 seed, Mater Dei (7-2) is No. 3 and defending champion Orange Lutheran (11-1) No. 4. All 17 Division 1 programs are entered in the tournament.

“Pretty much anyone who is any good is coming,” said Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh.

Santa Barbara opens against Corona-Santiago in a Group A play-in game on Thursday at 3 p.m. If the Dons win, they would face Huntington Beach on Friday at 12:30.

In Group B, Dos Pueblos takes on the play-in winner between Santa Margarita and La Cañada at the Elings Aquatic Center on Friday at 12:30 p.m.

San Marcos is in Group D with Orange Lutheran and could face the defending Division 1 champions in the second match Friday at 6:30 p.m. at SBHS. The Royals open against either Newport Harbor or Royal at 2:30 p.m. 

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