By Sue Pascoe
The Palisades High girls water polo team earned the No. 1 seed in the 16-team City Section playoffs that started last Friday with the Dolphins defeating West Adams at home, 25-3. Defending champion Birmingham is seeded second, Eagle Rock third and Granada Hills fourth.
“This is the first time in the school’s history that a girls or boys water polo team has been seeded one,” Coach Kirk Lazaruk told the News after the host Dolphins beat Venice 15-9 in their final Western League game on Feb. 8.
Palisades stayed home to face LACES in the quarterfinals on Feb. 14. During the regular season, PaliHi beat LACES twice, 21-9 and 14-5.
The semifinals are on Feb. 16 (possibly against Granada Hills or Cleveland, which is seeded fifth) at 3 p.m. at Pali. Finals will be held at Valley College on Feb. 18.
Under coach Lazaruk, the Pali girls went 8-0 in league and are 16-6 overall.
Early in the season, Lazaruk told the News that in order to prepare his team for playoff competition, he had entered them in several tournaments so that they could play faster, stronger and more experienced teams. The Dolphins won about half of their tournament games, losing to Flintridge Sacred Heart 8-4, Notre Dame 10-9, Cresenta Valley 16-2 and Chino Hills 13-8.
In last year’s City playoffs, Pali lost to Birmingham in the semifinals, but team co- captain Yasmin Ansari said this time it will be different if they meet in the finals. “We’re more prepared and ready,” she said. “We head into a game knowing what we want.”
Co-captain Jackie Au explained, “We have more of an ability to recognize plays. We have more of a feel for the game.”
Both players appreciate that their coach sought difficult matches prior to Western League action. “During our [league] games we didn’t have much competition,” said Ansari, a senior, who plans to play at Santa Monica College and then transfer.
“We pretty much dominate in the pool [in league],” said Au, also a senior, who hope to continue playing at Whittier College. “The tournaments were competitive and we grew as a team,” Ansari said. Reflecting the sport’s popularity, PaliHi added a junior varsity team this. No other school in the league sported a second team, so during some league games, especially against less experienced teams, Lazaruk had his JV players in the water. Preparing for the playoffs, Lazaruk told the News on Feb. 8, “we’ve been focusing on fundamentals,” while requiring the girls to increase their conditioning by swimming extra yards. “They haven’t com- plained once.”
Lazaruk added, “I love these girls and I’m so happy to be their coach. I want them to know the joy of winning a championship.”
In a Los Angeles Daily News story last December, sports writer Tony Ciniglio previewed the girls water polo season: “Birmingham ended Eagle Rock’s four-year reign in a surprise last season, but this year’s title race seems wide open with Eagle Rock, Birmingham and Palisades. Eagle Rock has a pair of premier players in Alena Sanchez and goalkeeper Jahmea Bent, but took a blow when coach Andres Gonzalez left for Mayfield after he said he was attacked by a parent after last year’s city final. Cleveland is also a sleeper. Birmingham was hit hard by graduation but should still be a viable contender. Palisades is also a perennial contender and figures to be in the mix.”