Dolphins Defeat Granada Hills 6-1 for Second Straight City Tennis Title
In the huddle before last Friday’s City Section Division I final against Granada Hills, Palisades High girls tennis coach Sean Passan told his players: “They’re just another City team.”
Then, the Dolphins took to the courts and proved it. The long-anticipated rematch between the City’s top two programs proved anticlimactic as Palisades captured its second straight section title − and record 22nd overall − with a 6-1 victory at Balboa Sports Center in Encino.
Senior Diana Silvers got the Dolphins off to a quick start, winning 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 singles, sophomore Abby Schleichkorn followed suit with a 6-1, 6-1 victory at No. 4 singles and junior co-captains Lizzie Belokonnyi and Maddy Prins prevailed 6-1, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles to move Palisades within one point of the title in the best-of-seven, two out of three sets format.
“This one is better because I won my match so I feel like I contributed,” said Silvers, who lost to the Highlanders’ Sarah Nuno in last year’s team final, which Palisades won 5-2. “Also, I was able to get off the court first so I could cheer for everyone else.”
The celebrating began when seniors Jesse Zand and Izzy Guterson finished off a 6-4, 6-1 win at No. 3 doubles − making the score 4-0 and the outcome academic.
“I had no idea we were the clinching point,” said co-captain Guterson, who persevered despite back and leg spasms. “Coach told us all to just worry about your one court because when you know what the score is you can get really nervous. Jesse is a great partner because she’s a really good player and she keeps my intensity up.”
The victory was extra special for Zand, who quit the team after her junior year but rejoined it one month into the season and earned the clinching point for the second straight time.
“This means the world to me − it’s exactly how I wanted to end my senior season,” said Zand, who played through a painful back injury last fall and swept at No. 4 singles in the final. “After joining late, with everything that’s happened, it’s all worth it. This one’s sweeter because of where I’m at in my life. Last year I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much.”
After prevailing in a first-set tiebreaker 7-5, the No. 2 doubles duo of Morgan Swan and Ally Williams took the second set 6-3 and just a few minutes later freshman Caroline Vincent wrapped up a 6-1, 6-0 victory at the No. 3 singles spot.
Having secured back-to-back titles, the Dolphins offered their support to senior Ilana Oleynik, who was trying to hand Highlanders top player Sarah Nuno her first loss in City competition. Oleynik led Malibu to the Southern Section semifinals three years in a row but transferred to Palisades in hopes of finally winning a CIF title. She rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take the first set 6-4, but Nuno rallied to win the last two sets 6-2, 6-1 to earn Granada Hills’ only point.
“Even though I lost, the team won and that’s what we came here to do,” said Oleynik, a Highlands resident. “Coming to Palisades is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I never had a chance to win a high school championship and that’s all I wanted this year.”
In a surprising move, Granada Hills Coach Simon Robertshaw put No. 2 singles player Risa Fukushige at No. 1 doubles with Cassidy Pedraza, but Belokonnyi and Prins were unphased.
“It set us off guard at first when we saw their lineup, but once the match started we didn’t let it get to us,” Prins said. “All the practice we put in and the USTA tournaments we’ve played have made us mentally tougher.”
Prins and Belokonnyi played with different partners last year (Prins with Julie Takakjian and Belokonnyi with Katie Vincent, who both graduated in the spring) but joined forces to go undefeated in the City this season.
“Last year’s partners meant a lot to us and we miss them, but this feels good without a doubt,” Belokonnyi said. “Tennis is a mental game and you could feel the tension when we got here, but we knew we were the better team.”
Blessed with his deepest squad yet, Passan used different lineups for each of the Dolphins’ three playoff matches and each yielded the same result: a 6-1 triumph.
“Not only are we the best team in the City, I think we’re the second best team too,” Passan said. “We had so many injuries throughout the season but one thing that did is give our younger players more opportunities to play. We’re not just focused on winning this year, but also building for the future.”
Passan crafted this year’s team not to win the City title — the Dolphins have been there and done that − but rather for the Southern California Regionals.
The Dolphins (14-2) hosted Southern Section Division 2 semifinalist Laguna Beach (20-5) in the opening round Tuesday at the Palisades Tennis Center and lost 4-3 despite singles wins by Vincent at (6-0, 6-0) and Schleichkorn at (6-3, 6-2).
At No. 1 doubles, Prins and Belokonnyi rallied to beat the Breakers’ duo of Ashley Shelton and Madeline Loomis, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
“We got the lineup we wanted and we really wanted to win a round in regionals because we’ve never done that, but it was still a great season,” Passan said.
The City Individual tournament starts Dec. 2 and consists of a 32-player singles and 32-team doubles draw.
Comeback Falls Short for Pali High Football
Friday afternoon’s City Section Division I first-round football game between Arleta and Palisades turned out to be a story of two halves.
The first 24 minutes were dominated by Arleta and the last 24 minutes belonged to Palisades, but the Dolphins gave themselves too steep a mountain to climb and their comeback bid fell a little short in a 36-31 defeat that brought an abrupt end to their 2014 season.
Quarterback P.J. Hurst shook off three interceptions to complete 18 of 27 attempts for 173 yards and two touchdowns − both to wide receiver Herbert Acosta − and Desmond Box rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns in 16 carries for the Dolphins, who finished 6-5 after earning their second straight upper division postseason trip under Coach Tim Hyde.
“We weren’t competing in the first half,” Hyde said. “We made a great comeback and shut them out in the second half, but we didn’t learn from our mistakes against Hamilton. It was the same thing as last year − we just came up a play or two short.”
Acosta made eight catches for 65 yards, including a five-yard scoring reception that pulled the Dolphins to within five points with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter, but Isaiah Gable returned the ensuing onside kick 37 yards to Palisades’ 25-yard line. Needing two yards on third down, Marco Gonzalez gained three, allowing the Mustangs to run out the clock and secure their first Division I playoff win after three consecutive first-round exits.
Led by quarterback Johnathan Porter the Mustangs galloped out of the barn, scoring on their first five possessions. Gable capped Arleta’s opening drive on a 69-yard run, Ivan Vasquez got behind the defense for a 25-yard touchdown reception to make it 15-0.
Acosta got Palisades on the scoreboard with a seven-yard touchdown catch, but J’son Overstreet caught a 29-yard scoring pass to push the margin back to 15 points and Porter’s two-yard keeper made it 29-7.
Box busted loose from 29 yards out to give the Dolphins momentum, but Arleta seized it right back on a four-yard touchdown run by Gonzalez and took a 36-14 lead into the locker room.
When play resumed the Dolphins looked like a different team. As he did so many times in the regular season, Dhaamir Lomax made a big play when Palisades needed it, intercepting a pass to halt the Mustangs’ first drive. Nine plays later, Box ran it in from 27 yards.
On the fourth play of Arleta’s next drive Justin Mason picked off a pass over the middle and returned it to midfield. After marching to the Mustangs’ 5-yard line Palisades settled for Ethan Erickson’s 22-yard field goal to narrow its deficit 12 points early in the fourth quarter.
“They weren’t better than us − we made small mistakes which had bigger consequences,” Lomax said. “We didn’t really make adjustments [in the second half]. We just realized that it was a win or go home situation but we realized it too late. I personally thought we could’ve come back.”
Hurst entered the playoffs having thrown 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions, but he was forced out of the pocket on numerous occasions against Arleta and had to throw on the run or escape the pocket for first downs. He had 31 yards rushing and avoided numerous sacks, but he gave credit to the Mustangs’ coverage downfield.
“I had time to throw, I kept my eyes downfield, but I didn’t like what I saw,” Hurst said. “We knew we were better but we didn’t play like it. If we’d had another minute I think we would’ve scored. We’ve got some great senior receivers and I’m really going to miss them.”
Arleta (10-1) travels to top-seeded San Pedro (10-1) in the quarterfinals tomorrow. Palisades was seeded 12th last year and lost to Garfield 27-20 in the first round.
Hurst threw for 2,220 yards in 11 games, Box rushed for 1,123 yards and 14 touchdowns and Acosta had 40 catches for 771 yards and eight touchdowns.
Hyde is already looking ahead to next season. “It’s all about 2015 now,” he said as he walked off the field.
Pali High Girls Hoops to Host Beach Invitational Next Week
Palisades High girls basketball coach Torino Johnson has assembled an elite field for the 11th annual Palisades Beach Invitational, which starts Monday in the large gym.
The 16-team tournament features three schools in the national top 10 preseason rankings: Santa Ana Mater Dei (No. 3), Los Angeles Windward (No. 5) and West Hills Chaminade (No. 6). Mater Dei will be making its first appearance in the tournament. Windward repeated as champion last season while Chaminade finished fifth.
“I’m really proud of the caliber of teams we have coming − the level of talent on the court will be unbelievable,” Johnson said. “We’re super excited to get the season started and we have high expectations. We’ll be going hard for the City Section championship.”
All but four teams in next week’s draw are ranked among the top 100 in California. The field also includes Southern Section powers Gardena Serra, West Torrance and Fullerton Troy and Bakersfield Garces from the Central Section. Troy was fourth and Garces sixth last year.
Rounding out the bracket are Palisades, Agoura, Marlborough, Mark Keppel, Oaks Christian, Palos Verdes, Taft, Long Beach Jordan and Riverside North.
The Dolphins open against Palos Verdes on Tuesday at 4 p.m., with the winner likely to face Mater Dei in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Paced by Most Valuable P layer Jordin Canada, now the freshman point guard at UCLA, Windward beat Palisades in the second round on its way to winning the tournament last winter. Palisades wound up finishing in eighth place.
The Dolphins finished in a three-way tie for first place in 2008 and won the tournament outright in 2010 and 2011.
The semifinals will be played at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. next Friday, the consolation final (ninth place) will be at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday (Nov. 29) and the championship game will tip off at 8:30 p.m. next Saturday. There will be no games on Thanksgiving.
The Palisades High boys basketball team begins its second season under head coach Vejas Anaya tomorrow in Long Beach against Rancho Dominguez (JV at 2 p.m. and varsity at 3:30).
The Dolphins play in the El Segundo, Beverly Hills and La Salle tournaments in December and begin Western League play Jan. 12 at Hamilton.
USC-UCLA Football Game Sparks Debate
Opinions are widely divided when it comes to the annual football game between crosstown rivals USC and UCLA and here in the Palisades it’s no different this year. Palisades High football coach Tim Hyde predicts the Bruins will win 31-21 Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“USC hasn’t proven it can play defense for four quarters,” he said. Also backing the Bruins are Pali High baseball coach Mike Voelkel (27-24), JV football coach Ray Marsden (42-27), Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Arnie Wishnick (28-24) and St. Matthew’s Athletic Director Andy Bernstein (42-35). Pacific Palisades Baseball Association Commissioner Bob Benton is picking the Trojans, 24-20.
Village Wins School Tennis League
After an exciting fall season, the Palisades Tennis Center hosted the Pacific Palisaddes Elementary School League finals last Saturday and after several hours of quality play it was Village School emerging victorious.
In the playoff round St. Matthew’s defeated Calvary Christian to advance to the finals. There, Village swept St. Matthew’s 3-0 to win its first league title.
At the No. 1 doubles position, Village’s Tommy Conlin and Kellen Georgi prevailed 6-3 over the St. Matthew’s duo of Alex Dutka and Bronwen Roosa.
At No. 2 doubles, Charlie Doris and Evan Hanning of Village won their set 6-4 against Nathaniel Dupuis and Oliver O’Connor.
At No. 3 doubles the Village pair of George Lazenby and Matteen Sharifi defeated Jack Carpenter and Samantha Momtazee of St. Matthews, 6-1.
Also contributing to Village’s success during the season were Kara Yoon and Alexandra Jewison. The PTC school league will start up again in January.
Girls Volleyball Sweeps Past South Gate in Quarterfinals
When the draws were released for the City Section Division I girls volleyball playoffs Palisades High head coach Carlos Gray described a potential quarterfinal with South Gate as “a semifinal-level match.”
When the teams met last Thursday in the Elite Eight, however, it went much smoother than Gray anticipated. The sixth-seeded Rams gave Palisades all it could handle in pool play at the Sylmar Tournament a few weeks earlier but the third-seeded Dolphins swept the best-of-five rematch, 25-15, 25-20, 25-9.
“We came in better prepared,” Gray said. “I had film on them and knew exactly how to defend them and attack them.”
Isabel Kelly led the way with 10 kills and fellow outside hitter Domineque Jeffords added six as the Dolphins took charge early in the opening set, jumping out to a 9-4 lead. Kelly’s spike up the line ended it.
“We knew what we had to do to beat this team — we played smart, we controlled our block, we controlled our passing and our effort was consistent the whole time,” said Kelly, who switched from middle blocker to outside hitter this season. “They had a huge block, so the key was smart roll shots and being consistent.”
South Gate made adjustments and took an early 11-9 lead in the second set, but the Dolphins regrouped to pull in front 18-17 and established a two-set cushion on Jeffords’ crosscourt kill.
Libero Olivia Zelon made several diving saves to keep points alive while Tielar Richards, Angel Echipue and Milena Gorum controlled the net.
“Isabel was a real force tonight and Olivia is the X Factor,” Gray said. “We can leave a section of the court open because I know she’ll somehow get there.”
The third set was never in doubt as Palisades opened a 7-0 lead. South Gate called time at 21-9 to stem the tide but the Dolphins won the final four points.
In Tuesday’s semifinals Palisades traveled to second-seeded El Camino Real, with the winner facing Granada Hills or Carson for the championship Saturday at 7 p.m. at Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.
Runners Stay on Course at Prelims
Marissa Williams ran the fastest overall time and the Palisades High girls varsity cross country team established itself as the one to chase after winning its heat at last Thursday’s City Section cross country preliminaries.
A day after signing her national letter of intent to UC Berkeley, Williams ran the 2.9-mile course at Pierce College for the first time this season, clocking a meet-best 17:16.69. She will try to win her third straight individual title Saturday morning and lead the Dolphins to their second straight team title.
“I kind of forgot everything but I kept following the arrows,” Williams said. “It wasn’t a great time — I could’ve done better, but hopefully next week I’ll improve. I like our team’s chances because everyone’s gotten better.”
Seniors Natalie Marsh (19:15.35) and Hannah DeSilva (19:26.24) were second and third, respectively, giving the Dolphins a sweep of the top three places. Occupying the eighth through 10th positions were Pali High sophomores Shannon Lee (20:08.93), JJ Wittbrodt (a season-best 20:11.57) and Chelsea Levi (20:23.66), for a team total of 23 points — far outdistancing Bravo (71) and Birmingham (76).Granada Hills, second to Palisades by a single point at last year’s finals, won the second heat with 37 points and West Valley League rival Taft won the third heat with 30 points.
Pali High’s boys varsity also qualified for the finals, placing second in its heat with 63 points. Sophomore Jakob Pollack (16:09.36) was fourth and freshman Ben Hamer (16:23.74) was sixth in the race, won by Jordy Ceja of Birmingham in 15:44.32.
“I love the Pierce course,” said Pollack, who was league champion and City runner up in the frosh/soph division last year. “I don’t know if I run better there, but everyone else seems to run worse. Place-wise I’d like to finish in the top 10 [at finals].”
Senior Shane Brouwer was 14th in 16:40.54, sophomore Jack Hockley was 18th in 17:10.26, sophomore Jonathan Flores was 22nd in a personal-best 17:20.24, senior Andres Gomez (18:00.43) was 31st and junior Connor Smith finished 32nd in 18:05.09. Granada Hills placed five runners in the top 12 to win the heat with 61 points.
The fastest time overall belonged to Paul Luevano of Venice, who ran 15:15.53 in the second heat, which Santee won with 35 points, one less than Marshall. El Camino Real won the third heat with 26 points.
Palisades nearly swept the Western League finals at Elysian Park a week before City prelims — winning every race except the JV boys division — and Coach Bob Macias was pleased with last Thursday’s results.
“Some of the other teams didn’t run as well today but it doesn’t mean much,” Macias said. “The boys have to do well and I don’t think they’ve run their best yet.”
Dolphins Dominate Fairfax on Senior Night
Palisades High quarterback P.J. Hurst couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to play his best game of the season.
Knowing a playoff berth could be on the line, he completed nine of 10 passes for 263 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the varsity football team to one of its most lopsided wins ever at Stadium by the Sea.By crushing Fairfax 61-7 in their regular season finale, the Dolphins finished with a winning record and forced a three-way tie for second place in the Western League.
The 28 seniors were honored in a ceremony before the opening kickoff and once the game started Hurst went about making sure each of his talented senior receivers had a catch in his last regular season contest.
“We wanted to get a rhythm going and we were all on time with each other in practice this week, so we wanted to air it out to our athletes on the outside,” said Hurst, who reached the 2,000-yard milestone in the third quarter and sat out the fourth. “We’ve shown that we can score a lot of points when we all come out to play.”
Hurst got the Dolphins on the scoreboard with a 12-yard strike to senior wideout Herbert Acosta with just over three minutes gone.
“Herbert and I know each other very well, I put it where only he could catch it and he made me look good,” Hurst said.
On the first play of Palisades’ next drive, Desmond Box burst up the middle for a 50-yard score and the rout was on. Box added a one-yard touchdown to make it 42-7 late in the second quarter and finished with 107 yards in 13 carries to give Palisades a 1,000-yard rusher in back-to-back seasons.
After his 21-yard touchdown pass to junior Gersan Osorio late in the first quarter, Hurst added scoring tosses of 65 and 30 yards to senior Quincy Cowherd, then capped off his career-best performance with a 45-yard touchdown pass to another senior, Dhaamir Lomax, late in the third quarter. Lomax had three receptions for 91 yards and senior tight end James Mann − one of Hurst’s most reliable targets all season − also caught a pass.
“I told the kids that you’re only guaranteed 10 games, not 11, so leave it all on the field and see what happens,” Pali High Coach Tim Hyde said. “We had our best week of practice maybe all season and it carried over into the game.”
Ethan Erickson kicked a 37-yard field goal to close out the scoring in the fourth quarter.
While Palisades’ offense was scoring at will, its defense was focused on containing Lions tailback Ramses Hernandez, one of the top rushers in the City Section. He gained 150 yards in 17 carries and scored the Lions’ only touchdown but had to sit out the second half with a pulled Achilles.
Linebacker Alec Simpson once again led the Dolphins with 10 tackles − putting him over the century mark in that category this season − and added his first interception in the second quarter to thwart a Lions drive in the red zone.
“We swarmed to the ball,” Simpson said. “Stopping the run was the first thing we wanted to do. Stop the run and look for the pass next. I thought we did a great job coverage-wise also.”
Ryan Ashmore also had an interception at cornerback and Quinn Perry had five tackles, including one on the Fairfax punter in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter.
The 61 points is the most Palisades has scored since a 63-36 win at Hamilton in 2010 under previous head coach Perry Jones.
“We’re a very tough team and we’re ready for anyone in the City,” Simpson said. “We had some losses that should’ve been wins, but we’re going to play very hard and do our best to win some games in the playoffs.”
Water Polo Splashes into Semis
It took only a few minutes in the pool for the Palisades High boys water polo squad to settle the issue in the first round of the City Section playoffs last Wednesday at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center.
Feeling snubbed after being seeded second in the tournament behind Birmingham, the reigning champions scored early and often against 15th-seeded Verdugo Hillson their way to a 16-3 victory.
Six different players — Lucas Silva, Eli Ackerman, Zach Senator, Mitchell Kim, Greg Vitous and Matt Affeld − each scored two goals as the Dolphins led 9-0 by the end of the first quarter.
Four other players − Orson Spence, Kian Lotfi, Sammy Speiser and Will Schwerdtfeger − each added a goal and goalies Blake Levine and Ross Aronson made four saves apiece for the Dolphins.
Lotfi had three assists and a game-high seven steals, Senator had four assists, Nick Frey had three assists and Silva and Speiser each added two assists for the Dolphins, who led 11-1 at the half and 13-1 after three quarters.
“Our team captain talked to us about coming out hard and building up our intensity because it’s not going to come out of nowhere,” Silva said. “Being the No. 2 seed is a little extra motivation.”
Coach Adam Blakis subbed throughout the second half, resting starters to let JV players called up to varsity gain playoff experience. He even let Senator, the team’s top scorer, play goalie in the fourth quarter and he made four saves.
Christian West scored twice for the Dons, runners-up to Chavez in the Valley Mission League.
It was more of the same when the Dolphins hosted seventh-seeded El Camino Real in the quarterfinals Monday.
The rematch between last season’s City finalists turned out to be a mismatch, as Palisades splashed past the Conquistadores 16-1.
El Camino Real returned only one starter from last year’s squad and it showed as Senator and Kim each scored three goals, Schwerdtfeger had two and Ackerman, Silva, Lotfi, Speiser, Isai Elias, Vitous, Frey and Affeld all added one.
“This is really good for us to prove we’re still No. 1,” Kim said. “We have confidence knowing we’ve won [City] before. This is exactly how we need to play.”
Palisades hosts a semifinal match today at 3 p.m. and if victorious will play for its third straight City title next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at East Valley High.
Football Opens City Playoffs at Arleta
Palisades High football coach Tim Hyde walked out of the City Section seeding meeting Saturday morning with a smile on his face after learning his team not only made the Division I playoffs but is seeded ninth − higher than he expected.
The Dolphins travel to eighth- seeded Arleta for a first-round game tomorrow and Hyde is familiar with the Mustangs because Palisades played them in a seven-on-seven tournament back in the spring.
“The ultimate goal at the end of the season is to be one of the top 16,” Hyde said. “We knew we weren’t going to get a home game but we’re excited to go play Arleta. They have a lot of skill on offense, they are disciplined on defense and they are well-coached.”
City rules allow teams to play first-round games in the afternoon and since Arleta’s field doesn’t have lights a 2 p.m. kickoff is scheduled.
If Palisades gets past Arleta it will likely face top-seeded San Pedro in the quarterfinals. The Pirates (9-1) finished in a three-way tie with Carson and Narbonne atop the Marine League but got the nod for No. 1 based on record.
East Valley League winner Arleta is 9-1 under new coach Bill Coan and its only loss was a 27-25 setback at Roosevelt in Week 3.
Here are Friday’s match ups:
#16 Roosevelt at #1 San Pedro
#9 Palisades at #8 Arleta, 2 p.m.
#12 Venice at #5 Crenshaw
#13 Taft at #4 Carson
#14 South East at #3 Narbonne
#11 Canoga Park at #6 Dorsey
#10 Banning at #7 Birmingham
#15 El Camino Real at #2 Garfield