Pali High Water Polo Back in City Final
It was not easy, but the Palisades High girls water polo team advanced to its fourth City Section final in five years with a 15-10 semifinal victory over Granada Hills on Thursday at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center.
The fourth-seeded Highlanders (13-4) scored first, but Palisades led 7-4 at halftime and began the fourth quarter with a 13-5 lead.
Senior co-captain Jackie Au led the attack with five goals, Leighanne Estabrook and Clara Saab each scored four goals and Lilly Ramos scored twice for the top-seeded Dolphins (18-6), who will play for their first section championship Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at L.A. Valley College.
Palisades will face a familiar opponent in third-seeded Eagle Rock, which defeated the Dolphins in three successive finals (2013, 2014 and 2015) before falling to Birmingham, 8-6, in its bid for a fifth straight City crown last season.
The Eagles (15-2) exacted revenge on No. 2-seeded Birmingham 5-3 in Thursday’s other semifinal in Lake Balboa. Birmingham upset Palisades 13-7 in the semifinals last winter.
— STEVE GALLUZZO
Pali High Soccer Teams Net No. 2 Seeds
Palisades High’s boys and girls soccer teams earned No. 2 seeds in the City Section Division I playoffs and have first-round byes.
The defending champion boys squad will host the winner of Friday’s play-in game between No. 15 Arleta and No. 18 Hollywood in the second round next Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Stadium by the Sea. The quarterfinals are Feb. 24.
The Western League champion Dolphins (16-0) have scored 54 goals and allowed nine and have posted 10 shutouts.
West Valley League champion Granada Hills, which lost to Palisades 2-1 in the finals last year, is the No. 1 seed. West Valley runner-up El Camino Real is seeded No. 3, Southern League champion Marquez is No. 4, West Valley third-place finisher Birmingham is No. 5, Coliseum League winner Fremont is No. 6, Northern League champion Bell is No. 7 and Fairfax, runner-up to Palisades in the Western, is seeded No. 8.
The Pali High girls team is also seeded No. 2 and will host the winner of Thursday’s play-in game between No. 15 Arleta and No. 18 Sotomayor in the second round Saturday at 3 p.m. at Stadium by the Sea. The quarterfinals are Feb. 23.
The Western League champion Dolphins (13-1-2) have scored 63 goals, allowed seven and have posted 11 shutouts.
West Valley League champion El Camino Real, which tied Palisades 1-1 in a nonleague game Jan. 3, is the No. 1 seed. Marine League winner San Pedro is seeded No. 3, reigning City champion Taft is No. 4, Southern League winner Bravo is No. 5, West Valley third-place finisher Granada Hills is No. 6, West Valley fourth-place finisher Cleveland is No. 7 and Western runner-up LACES is No. 8.
The boys and girls finals are Saturday, March 4 at L.A. Valley College.
Pali High Girls Basketball Nets No. 2 Seed
The Palisades High girls basketball team is seeded No. 2 in the City Section Open Division playoffs and will host No. 7 Narbonne in the quarterfinals next Saturday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. in the Dolphins’ gym.
The Dolphins, back-to-back Open Division champions, tied for first place in the Western League with Fairfax, which is seeded No. 1 and hosts No. 8 Legacy in the quarterfinals.
Co-West Valley League champions El Camino Real and Granada Hills are seeded No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, Eagle Rock is No. 5 and Carson is No. 6.
Semifinals are Feb. 25 at Roybal and the finals and third-place game are March 4 are Cal State Dominguez Hills.
After finishing third in the Western League behind Fairfax and Westchester, the Pali High boys team is seeded fourth in the 16-team Division I bracket and hosts No. 13 Chatsworth in the first round Wednesday night (tip-off at 7).
If victorious, the Dolphins will host either Western League rival Hamilton (the No. 5 seed) or No. 12 Rancho Dominguez in the quarterfinals Friday, Feb. 21.
Coliseum League runner-up Crenshaw is the top seed, Fremont is No. 2 and Valley Mission League champion Sylmar is No. 3. University is No. 7, followed by View Park, Venice, South Gate, Granada Hills and Marshall.
Semifinals are Feb. 24 at Roybal and the championship game is March 4 at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
— Steve Galluzzo
Milestone Man: Johnson Earns 200th Victory
It took three tries, but Palisades High girls basketball head coach Torino Johnson earned his 200th victory Wednesday night in the Dolphins’ 72-48 win at Western League rival Westchester.
“I’m very humbled… I can’t believe it finally happened,” Johnson said. “If it was easy, everyone would do it. I’m grateful and very excited for the future.”
In his 10th season at Palisades, Johnson has a 200-121 record, including a 91-28 league mark. He is 24-10 in postseason play and has led the Dolphins to four City Section titles, back-to-back Division II titles in 2011-12 and back-to-back Open Division titles in 2015-16. He is a three-time City Section Coach of the Year and was named Division I State Coach of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports in April.
In Johnson’s first try at 200 last Friday, Palisades lost to Mater Dei 81-69 at the Nike Extravaganza in Santa Ana. His second opportunity came Monday on Senior Night, when the host Dolphins fell to Fairfax 64-59, ending their 38-game league winning streak.
Palisades (22-8 overall, 10-1 in league) is tied with Fairfax for first place in league and travels to LACES in its regular-season finale Friday.
— STEVE GALLUZZO
Pali High Boys Hoops Stunned by Hamilton
Having won three of its previous four games, including a 56-45 victory over archrival Venice, the Palisades High boys basketball team was riding high heading into Friday’s contest at Hamilton.
Palisades had defeated the Yankees by 13 points in the first round of Western League play two weeks earlier, but the rematch was a different story, as Hamilton overcame a 24-19 halftime deficit to shock the Dolphins, 56-52.
Palisades led by eight points after two quarters but was held to 10 points in the second half Monday in a 65-54 defeat at first-place Fairfax.
The Dolphins took on second-place Westchester on Wednesday and were outscored 21-2 in the third quarter of a 75-40 loss that dropped them to 6-5 in league play. Palisades will host LACES on Senior Night at 5:30 Friday.
— STEVE GALLUZZO
Nicole Gould “Kills It” at Amherst College
Palisadian and Amherst College outside hitter Nicole Gould ended her collegiate volleyball career with 1,012 kills in 378 sets and 109 matches. In her senior season, the four-year starter was second on the team in kills (237 in 89 sets) and 10th in both kills and kills per set (2.6) in the NESCAC.
The former Harvard-Westlake High standout earned All-Academic honors three times at Amherst. In her junior year, she helped the purple and white to the round of 32 in the NCAA III Volleyball Championships, the teams’ first appearance in over 10 years.
Gould grew up in the Marquez neighborhood and attended St. Matthew’s. She and fellow captain Maggie Danner formed the highest- scoring outside hitter duo in program history.
— STEVE GALLUZZO
Torino Johnson Closes in on 200 Wins
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Judging by the look on his face and the calmness of his voice, one would never know whether Monday’s contest meant more than any other Torino Johnson has witnessed in 10 years as head coach of Palisades High’s girls basketball team.
“Senior Night” was his second crack at the 200-win plateau and his players, especially the six seniors playing their final regular season home game, wanted Johnson to reach the milestone on their own floor. Although the Dolphins battled back from a 10-point halftime deficit to take the lead in a see-saw fourth quarter, they came up short in the end, losing to rival Fairfax 64-59 and delaying their coach’s ascendance to the “200 Club” for at least one more game.
“I can’t acknowledge the wins without acknowledging the losses,” Johnson said afterwards. “I’ve had my share of both. I’m on the verge of an incredible achievement but moreso for the program, my mentors, parents, the school and everyone who has helped me along the way.”
Sophomore Kayla Williams had 28 points and Loyola Marymount-bound senior Chelsey Gipson added 24, including a driving layup that gave Palisades a 44-43 lead to open the fourth quarter.
Dawnyel Lair had 16 points and 17 rebounds, Fatou Semebene had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Chassen Gutierrez added 14 points for Fairfax, which avenged a seven-point defeat Jan. 20 and snapped the Dolphins’ 38-game league winning streak to move into a first-place tie with two games left. Palisades had not lost a Western League game since a 62-38 home setback to the Lions on Jan. 31, 2014.
“They were physical with us and we have to be able to adapt to that,” Johnson said. “Nothing comes easy. It’s fight or flight and we’re not running from anybody.”
Starting and contributing along with Gipson were fellow seniors Caytlnn Gorden, Julia Ide, Kayla Tavakoli and Chaniya Pickett, who swished a three-pointer from the corner to give Palisades a 37-36 lead with 1:51 left in the third quarter. Senior Lea Toubian was subbed in at the first timeout. Freshman Jane Nwaba rounded out the scoring with four points.
The Dolphins began the second half on an 8-0 run to pull within 32-30 and Gipson’s two free throws tied it, 34-34, with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
Twice in a row, Gipson stole an inbounds pass, made a layup and was fouled, putting Palisades ahead by four points, but Fairfax crept back in front, 43-42, heading to the final eight minutes. The Lions used a 17-7 spurt to build a nine-point lead midway through the fourth and Palisades never crept closer than five after that.
Johnson praised the efforts of his seniors. All but one have been in the program four years.
“Seniors are always important for us because culture never graduates,” Johnson said. “These girls have passed a wealth of knowledge along to our younger players and it’s surreal to see them filling out college applications.”
The part of the job the reigning City Coach of the Year likes most is teaching and while he is humbled by the attention his success has brought, he stays on an even keel and looked forward to Tuesday’s practice.
“Nothing’s changed… I love being in the gym working,” said Johnson, who has guided the Dolphins to four City titles, including back-to-back Open Division crowns. Palisades plays Westchester on Wednesday, a team the Dolphins defeated by 43 points in their last meeting Jan. 25, and Johnson is counting on the old axiom “the third time’s a charm.”
Johnson’s first chance for victory No. 200 came last Friday against Mater Dei at the Nike Extravaganza in Santa Ana. The Dolphins battled hard the entire game and made a valiant fourth-quarter comeback before succumbing 81-69 despite Gipson’s 37 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
Williams added 26 points, eight rebounds and five steals and Jane Nwaba had six points, 10 rebounds and three steals for the Dolphins, who trailed by as many as 23 points but outscored the host Monarchs 32-21 in the last eight minutes.
The 12-point margin was by far the closest in the teams’ seven meetings since Johnson took over Palisades’ program from Ronda Crowley.
“Our concept is to keep getting better,” Johnson said. “Even if there’s a perceived talent discrepancy, we refuse to acknowledge it. There’s nothing wrong with losing if you learn from it and that’s what we intend to do.”
The Dolphins travel to fifth-place Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies for their regular season finale Friday at 5.
Pali High Girls Water Polo Earns No. 1 Seed
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
For the first time, the Palisades High girls water polo team has earned the No. 1 seed in the City Section playoffs. The Dolphins will host No. 16 West Adams in the first round Friday at 3 p.m. at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center.
Reigning City champion Birmingham is seeded No. 2 and last year’s runner-up Eagle Rock is No. 3, followed by four West Valley League schools: Granada Hills, Cleveland, Taft and El Camino Real.
If victorious Friday, Palisades will host either No. 8 Roosevelt or No. 9 LACES in the quarterfinals next Tuesday. The semifinals are next Friday (also at 3 p.m.) and the championship game will be Saturday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. at Valley College.
The Western League champion Dolphins beat LACES 21-9 Monday and host Venice in their final regular season game Wednesday.
Birmingham defeated Palisades in the semifinals last season before dethroning four-time champion Eagle Rock in the finals.
Wrestlers Fall in Semifinals at City Duals
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
The Palisades High wrestling team is shooting for its first-ever City Section title this season and the youthful Dolphins looked every bit like championship contenders throughout the first round of the City Dual Championships last Tuesday in the Pali High gym.
Eight Dolphins scored pins en route to a 67-9 victory over San Pedro that had coach Steve Cifonelli smiling from ear to ear.
“I’m very pleased with our effort as a team,” he said. “We performed the way I hoped we would.”
Lucas Gagne pinned the Pirates’ Jake Franco in 1:09 at 106 pounds, Ryan Gouche won 12-4 at 113 and Aaron Galef pinned San Pedro’s Travon McDonald in 1:25 in the 125-pound weight division.
Jonathan Quero increased the Dolphin’ lead to 31-0 with a 5-3 decision over Vincent Gutierrez at 126 before 132-pounder Jesus Mejia got San Pedro on the scoreboard by pinning Tommy Kalili in 1:54.
In the most exciting match of the meet, 138-pounder Jake Carpenter pinned San Pedro’s Ray Rodriguez with 26 seconds left.
“Jake was all guts,” Cifonelli said. “He gave up two points with five seconds left in the first period and again in the second period, but he his heart’s the size of an ocean. He only had one day to make weight, but his desire got it done.”
Chance Chapman won by forfeit at 145, Marcelo Maya pinned San Pedro’s Jacob Duran in 2:30 at 152, Max Palees pinned the Pirates’ Joshua Ward in 2:11 at 160, Joseph Velado pinned San Pedro’s Peter Palma in 26 seconds at 170 and Joshua Du won by forfeit at 182 to set up a showdown between two of the best 195-pounders in the City, Palisades’ Hamzah Alsaudi and San Pedro’ Abraham Rivera.
Alsaudi got taken down, but escaped in the first period and earned another point on an escape in the second period to tie it, 2-2. Rivera took a 4-2 lead on a reversal and although Alsaudi got a point back on an escape, but Rivera held on to win 4-3.
“Hamzah almost got a takedown at the end but time ran out,” Cifonelli said. “He didn’t hit one shot in the first period and the other guy played defense the last 30 seconds, but maybe not winning will help Hamzah down the road.”
Immanuel Newell won by fall in 1:44 at 220 pounds and Carlos Velado won by fall in 3:44 at 285.
The third-seeded Dolphins advanced to Saturday’s semifinals against second-seeded San Fernando at Eagle Rock and this time Palisades did not bring its ‘A’ game, falling behind 31-0 on its way to a 37-27 defeat.
“I’m not shocked by the result but I’m disappointed with the way we wrestled,” Cifonelli said. “We were afraid and we didn’t wrestle smart.”
Maya won 10-5 at 152 pounds, Palees won 11-0 at 160, Joseph Velado pinned his opponent in 18 seconds at 170, Du won by forfeit at 182 and Alsaudi got a reversal with two seconds left to pull out a 7-6 win against Joe Reyes at 220.
At heavyweight, Carlos Velado pinned San Fernando’s Fernando Ramos in 45 seconds to round out the scoring.
San Fernando went on to lose, 37-29, to No. 1-seeded Birmingham in the final, but Cifonelli knows every team is saving itself for regionals.
“We can definitely challenge for the title if we wrestle like I know we can,” Cifonelli said.
Palisades hosts the Region 3 Meet Saturday at 10 a.m. against Van Nuys, Sylmar, San Fernando, Fremont, Bright Star, Panorama, Reseda West Adams, Dorsey and Diego Rivera.
The top five wrestlers in each weight advance to the City finals Feb. 17-18 at Roybal Learning Center.
‘Magnificent Seven’ Sign Letters of Intent
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Seven Palisades High athletes signed letters of intent with their respective colleges at a ceremony on campus Wednesday.
As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock last Friday night at Stadium by the Sea, players in blue jerseys trudged off the field in shock, hardly believing what had just happened.
Boys soccer standout Spencer Howard, who led the Dolphins with 11 goals and seven assists (29 points) through Wednesday’s game against LACES, signed to play Division I at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Three girls soccer players also signed: goalies Katie Wilkes (UC San Diego) and Kat Nuckols (Bates College in Lewiston, Maine) and captain Zoe Capanna (Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York).
Also signing with Bates was volleyball player Angel Echipue, an All-City middle blocker who powered the Dolphins to the City’s inaugural Open Division finals in November.
Greg Havton, a member of the Dolphins’ record-setting 200 medley relay team at the City swim finals in May, signed with Pitzer College in Claremont.
Tennis player Abby Schleichkorn, who played on three City championship teams with the Dolphins, signed with Wellesley College in Massachusetts.