PaliHi Boys Water Polo Wins 6th Straight City Title (Video)

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

It was an agonizing final minute for the Palisades High School boys water polo team. The poolside at L.A. Valley College was packed with cheering, chanting spectators. The Dolphins led, 6-5, but Granada Hills had possession with 40 seconds left.

Suddenly there was a turnover, and Pali gained possession. Moments later, the match ended, and the Dolphins had secured their sixth consecutive L.A. City Section championship.

Equally exciting, the city champion qualifies for the State playoffs for the first time. Matchups came out after presstime. In the first quarter last Thursday, Pali had several opportunities to score, outshooting the Highlanders four to one, but the team’s usually precise shots were wide or just missed.

The Dolphins beat Granada Hills 6-5 to win the championship. Photo: Isabella Trask

Coach Adam Blakis later explained, “We were definitively impacted by not having a full warm-up after spending 21⁄2 hours on the bus to get to the pool. Our shots were way off and we missed a bunch right in front of the cage that would have blown the game wide open.”

Finally, Oliver Grant found the net with 5:43 left in the second quarter and Zach Wunder followed with another scoring shot.

Granada Hills pulled a foul and scored, making the score 2-1, but Zeke Ramirez countered with 1:26 left in the half and Grant scored again with less than 30 seconds left to give the Dolphins a 4-1 half- time lead.

Early in the second half, fouls were a problem for the Dolphins and the Highlanders scored on a man-advantage. Grant scored his third goal with 39 seconds left in the quarter, but Granada Hills quickly retaliated, cutting Pali’s lead to 5-3.

In the fourth quarter, the Dolphins scored what proved to be the winning goal when senior captain Sammy Speiser passed to his brother Max, who fired the ball into the net with five minutes left.

Matt Speiser (left) and Theo Trask (right) helped goalie Michail Melnick with strong defense. Photo: Isabella Trask

The Highlanders then played tough defense and scored twice in rapid succession with just under three minutes to play, but the Dolphins hung on.

“I’m proud of how we played,” said Sammy Speiser said. “Props to Granada, they came out firing on all cylinders.”

Ramirez, a junior, said the win this year was more satisfying for him. “I was on the bench last year. I played, but this year it was a lot bigger. I was a starter and I felt more responsibility, it was up to me.”

Granada Hills coach Gor Asryan told the Los Angeles Daily News that his team’s plan was to emphasize defense. “With our focus on defense we had to give up offensively. It was a risk, sure, and we have to live with it, but it gave us a chance to win.”

Seniors Sammy Speiser and Michail Mel- nick celebrate their win. Photo: Isabella Trask

Blakis was asked if that strategy had an impact on the Dolphins. “Yes, they did a great job of slowing down the game,” he said. “It was a good strategy against us because we are a much faster team and run an up-tempo offense.”

With only two seniors on his team, Blakis was asked how that factored into play.“Our team has matured during the season,” he said. “In fact, I think one of the keys to winning [the final] was our composure. A month ago, we would have imploded.”

The coach singled out junior Matt Garcia. “Once in, Matt changed the tempo of the game. He had a couple of steals that led to some counter opportunities,” Blakis said. “We played great defense as a team, shutting them down. Theo Trask was instrumental in taking out their best player, and Zeke had a key goal for us that set the tempo.”

Goalie Michail Melnick, who had seven saves, said “This was a big defensive game. I have to give credit to Theo [Trask] and Matt [Garcia], the defense did all the work,” making 17 steals total.

The Dolphins finished 26-6 overall this season, while going 8-0 record in league play. “Whoever we play in state, it will be our toughest opponent all year,” Blakis said. “The team is excited to be able to play at the next level.”

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