With only two seniors on his Palisades High School girls water polo team, one could expect second-year Coach Kirk Lazaruk to throw out the standard lines from coaches, such as “It’s a building year,” or “We have a lot of young talent.”
Instead, Lazaruk told the News, “Our short-term goal is to win the CIF City Section championship.” (PaliHi has reached the finals five times in recent years, but has never won.)
“Our intermediate and long-term goal is to perform at a higher level, and do okay at the state tournament like our boys did,” said Lazaruk, who is also the boys’ assistant coach. (The Dolphins went to state for the first time in November and lost 14-4 in the first round to Mater Dei, the eventual champion.)
Lazaruk’s confidence in his girls team is well-founded because the seventh-seeded Dolphins won the Burbank tournament in early December by defeating Hoover 11-3, second-seeded Arcadia 8-7, San Marino 5-4 and Monrovia, 5-4.
This was the first-ever tournament title for the PaliHi girls since the program’s inception in 2011.
Junior Leighanne Estabrook, who plays utility/driver, was selected tournament MVP. In addition to seniors Clara Saab and Kayla Mehaned, Lazaruk has 28 girls out this year and 14 are new to the team. This includes transfer Charlize Samperio from San Diego, one player who switched from soccer to water polo and three freshmen who played water polo for Westside Aquatics.
“The girls are spreading the message about water polo,” Lazaruk said, “and are acting as recruiters for the team.”
His emphasis so far has been teaching them “water polo IQ.” He has also had to change his coaching style, since he says many of his players are kinesthetic learners (hands-on, carry out a physical activity), rather than auditory or visual learners.
He also has help from boys water polo players Theo Trask, Luis Urias and Michail Melnik, who have come to practices, got in the pool and worked with the girls on passing and defense.
Lazaruk has three possible goalies this year: juniors Chloe Berrisford, Charlize Samperio and Jessie Taft. Offensively, the coach is looking to Estabrook and Alexandra (“Ally”) Stahl.
The Dolphins lost their first match of the season to Culver City, 11-7, but “I believe we could have won,” Lazaruk said. “We were up 3-0 but started making mistakes.”
Afterwards, he told the girls, “If we look at the season as wins and losses, it will be an emotional season.” Rather, his emphasis will be on learning and improvement.
On December 11, the Dolphins opened conference play at home by swamping Banning, 19-6. “We played everybody,” Lazaruk said.
League play resumes on January 10 at LACES, followed by a January 12 game at Malibu. The next home game is against Venice on January 17.