Finishing What They Started
Palisades High Doubles Team Captures City Individual Tennis Title
The smiles on the faces of Maddy Prins and Lizzie Belokonnyi after winning the City Individual doubles final said it all.
Since they decided to team up after last year’s tournament, the Palisades High juniors have been practically inseparable. They’ve spent more time with each other than with their own families. They can read each other’s thoughts, finish each other’s sentences and anticipate each other’s moves on the court. And they’ve become best friends.
“Both of us have had different partners for two years and placed second and third so this was huge for us,” said Prins, who lost the previous two Individual finals with Julie Takakjian. “It’s been our goal to make it back here and win. So we couldn’t be happier.”
Their year-long odyssey came to an end last Thursday afternoon at Balboa Sports Center in Encino, where the two were crowned section tennis champions after a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Granada Hills’ Sydney Hsueh and Shalini Vijaye Kumar − a just reward for 12 months of hard work and dedication. In accomplishing their personal mission they also ended the West Valley League’s eight-year streak of doubles champions and became the first Palisades tandem to win the Individual title since 2005 when Yasmir Navas and Lauren Pugatch upset another Granada Hills pair, Roxanne Plata and Julia Dyachenko in three sets.
Prins and Belokonnyi led the Dolphins to their second consecutive team championship this fall, but their individual triumph was perhaps even more satisfying because of the sacrifices they had to make along the way.
“Both of our partners graduated so we figured now’s the time, the sooner we start playing together the better,” said Belokonnyi, who was third at Individuals last year with Katie Vincent. “Over the summer we went to camp and then after camp we went to practice together with another coach. “We both wanted it a lot. Driving four hours one way to tournaments, sitting in traffic − it was exhausting, but this makes it all worth it.”
Prins and Belokonnyi did not drop a set in five matches despite twice having to play two rounds in one day and they finished the season undefeated against City opponents.
“She knows everything about me, I know everything about her and having that bond allows us to handle anything on the court,” Belokonnyi said. “Our chemistry is great together and having that bond allows us to handle any situation on the court,” Prins said.
The tournament was delayed several times due to rain and along with the pressure associated with being the No. 1 seed, the Palisades pair had the added burden of being their school’s only hope after the Dolphins’ other two doubles teams dropped out before the tournament started. Yet nothing was going to deny Prins and Belokonnyi on Thursday − not even a Highlanders duo that presented a style they weren’t used to seeing.
“The conditions weren’t easy, it was windy, it was about to rain and they don’t have as much pace as the teams we normally train with so we had to push through that mentally,” Prins said. “It’s a confidence thing − you want to stay aggressive but you don’t want to hit it too hard.”
Their experience showed as they raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set and closed it out on Prins’ service winner. After Hsueh and Vijaye Kumar took a 3-2 lead in the second set, Belokonnyi held serve to level the match, Prins executed a drop shot to break the Highlanders pair the next game and Prins hit two aces and a forehand winner for a 5-3 lead. Belokonnyi’s crosscourt forehand winner brought Palisades to match point and after a double fault, she and Prins finally had reason for celebration, although even that was short and subdued because both had to study for finals the next day.
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this than Maddy and Lizzie,” Pali High Coach Sean Passan said. “They’ve been outstanding team captains and leaders all season and they’ve been committed to this since last year, so I’m really happy for them.”
As driven as they were to win Individuals this year, they are just as determined to defend the title next fall.
“Two in a row is our goal,” Belokonnyi said. “So no offseason for us. We’ll be training all next semester and playing USTA events over the summer.”
In the third-place singles match, Palisades senior Diana Silvers defeated Narbonne’s Kyra DeCastro 7-5, 6-2. In the semifinals, Silvers had lost to Sarah Nuno, who won the singles championship for the third time Thursday after beating Granada Hills teammate Risa Fukushige, 6-1, 6-3.
No Consolation Prize for Pali High Boys Basketball
Trailing by three points with 7.4 seconds left and the consolation title on the line Saturday night at the Beverly Hills Invitational, the Palisades High boys basketball team had one last chance for a three-pointer to force overtime.
Will Johnson inbounded the ball to point guard Shane Williams, who dribbled across halfcourt, put a move on Eagles defender Josh Davis and launched a shot from behind the arc. The ball bounced off the rim and into the arms of George Brown, who banked it off the glass and in as time expired, but Brentwood escaped with a 65-64 win in a game both coaches described as “ugly.”
“I’ll take an ugly win any day,” Brentwood Coach Ryan Bailey said after matching wits with his former UCLA teammate and friend Kris Johnson, one of the Dolphins’ assistant coaches.
The respect was mutual, as Johnson praised Bailey and his team: “Great job by them. They were prepared and executed on both ends. They flat-out beat us.”
Joe Robinson led the Dolphins (6-3) with 17 points and four assists, including a three-pointer to tie the game 41-41 with three minutes left. Will Johnson added 10 points and five assists, Ron Artest had 10 rebounds and Brown added six points and 12 rebounds on his way to earning All-Tournament honors.
“Both teams played terribly − the game of basketball deserves a better performance,” Pali High head coach Vejas Anaya quipped. “We had 20 missed layups, I was unhappy with our communication from the bench to the floor and we didn’t get the shot that we wanted at the end.”
Early on it seemed as if there was a lid on the basket, as neither team could buy a bucket. Chris Kurihara finally broke the ice with a three-pointer from the corner with 2:14 left in the first quarter. Will Johnson fed Robinson for a transition layup and Kurihara drained another three-pointer to give the Dolphins an 8-2 lead after the first eight minutes.
Brentwood got back into the game thanks to freshman point guard and Palisadian Charley Wadler, who hit three long-range jumpers in the second quarter to ignite a 14-5 run that gave the Eagles a 20-15 lead at halftime. Wadler finished with nine points.
Ountae Campbell led Brentwood (7-1) with 18 points. Adding seven points and eight rebounds was senior forward Maxwell Kupchak, son of Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who was in the stands at the Swim Gym rooting the Eagles on.
Palisades opened the second half on a 5-0 run to tie it but the Eagles responded with a 7-0 run of their own and took a 33-25 lead into the fourth quarter.
After Robinson’s three-pointer was long, Brown swooped in for the rebound and scored to pull the Dolphins within a point with 12.7 seconds left. Campbell was intentionally fouled and made the first of two foul shots, but he got his own rebound on the second and was fouled again. He again made one of two, putting Brentwood up by three and setting the stage for Williams’ game-tying three-point attempt.
After opening the tournament with a 49-44 loss to Cantwell-Sacred Heart last Monday, the Dolphins bounced back the next day with a 66-42 win against Torrance. Robinson scored 16 points, Michael Fry added 10 points and eight rebounds, Christian Hodge had seven points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and Williams dished out eight assists for the Dolphins.
Johnson led the way with 14 points, including two three-pointers, Artest had 14 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks and Robinson added 10 points in Friday’s 58-45 triumph over Lawndale Leuzinger.
After building a 34-18 halftime lead Palisades quelled the Olympians’ third-quarter surge with a 6-0 run, capped by Artest’s rebound and dunk.
“At 6-8, Ron can affect the game in so many ways and you have to let him do it,” Anaya said.
Loyola rallied in the fourth quarter to edge Long Beach Poly 63-59 in the championship game.
Palisades has won the tournament seven times: 1986, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2008. The Dolphins will return to action Dec. 27 at the La Salle Tournament in Pasadena.
Pali High Wrestlers Fifth at Downey Duals
Palisades High wrestler Erik Miranda went 3-1 with two pins to take fourth place in the 106-pound division during last Saturday’s Jesse Cruz Memorial Tournament at Northview High in Covina. Marcelo Maya went 3-1 with three pins to take seventh place at 152 pounds while Dolphins teammate Anthony Teitelbaum went 1-2 in the same weight class. Sam Reedy went 3-1 with three pins for seventh at 160.
Last Tuesday, in a five-way dual meet at Bishop Amat High in La Puente, Miranda and Kevin Rosen went undefeated in their weight classes, with Miranda pinning all three of his opponents and Rosen recording two pins and a technical fall. Heavyweight Kenny Jones sustained an ankle injury during the Dolphins’ match against Bishop Amat.
“I went last and it was tough for me to see that happen to Kenny before going out there,” Miranda said. “So i wrestled that match for him.”
Palisades will compete in the West Coast Classi on Friday and Saturday at Rosemead High.
Kerr Breaks NBA Coaching Record
Steve Kerr has come a long way since his childhood days in Pacific Palisades. After graduating from Palisades High in 1983, his life has centered around basketball and although his playing days are long over he continues to set records in the game he loves.
With Golden State’s 105-93 home victory over Houston last Wednesday, Kerr became the first rookie head coach in National Basketball Association history to win 19 of his first 21 games. The record was extended to 21 wins in 23 games, finally ending with Tuesday’s loss at Memphis. Kerr was hired to coach the Warriors in May and so far has proven the right fit to mold a team featuring perhaps the league’s best backcourt duo in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
“It means that I’m the luckiest coach in NBA history because I inherited a team that was already really good,” Kerr said. “You just want to pile up wins in the West.”
Kerr played for Lute Olson at the University of Arizona before embarking on a 15-year NBA career in which he won five rings (three with Chicago and two with San Antonio) and retired as the league’s all-time leader in three-point accuracy.
Prior to taking the job in Oakland the 49-year-old Kerr was a TNT analyst and served three years as general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
Pali High Athletes Named All-City
One week after being named co-MVPs in the Western League, Palisades High volleyball players Faylenn McDonough and Delaney Arth received an even more prestigious honor as City Section Division I co-Players of the Year. The two setters led the Dolphins to their 29th City title in November. Joining them on the first team is sophomore libero Olivia Zelon, the Dolphins’ dig leader.
In just his second season, Pali High pilot Carlos Gray was voted Coach of the Year.
Palisades is gaining respect in the City Section under head coach Tim Hyde and proof is in the pudding. Fresh off his second campaign with the Dolphins, Hyde represented the Western League at last Tuesday night’s All-City meeting and he was thrilled when four of his players make the squad.
Junior quarterback P.J. Hurst made the Division I first team on offense, senior kicker/punter Ethan Erickson made the first team on special teams and junior linebacker Alec Simpson made the first team on defense.
“I was glad to be on the committee with a panel of great coaches and they had a lot of nice things to say about our program,” Hyde said. “Ethan was a unanimous choice and everyone knew about Alec when his name was mentioned. The fact that P.J. made the first team with [Garfield quarterback] Stevie Williams speaks volumes about his development.”
Senior receiver and captain Herbert Acosta, who led the Dolphins in catches, receiving yardage and touchdown receptions, made the Division I second team.
Carson all-purpose back Jabari Minix was named Most Valuable Player, quarterback Roman Ale from City Division I champion Narbonne was Offensive Player of the Year and linebacker Chris Alvidrez of San Pedro was Defensive Player of the Year.
Rec Center Flaggers Reach Finals
A remarkable postseason run came to an end Saturday for the Palisades Recreation Center’s Minors Division (ages 9-10) All-Star flag football team, which made history by becoming the first Palisades-based squad to play for the championship of the Valley Regional Tournament.
Palisades won four playoff games in six days to reach the final, beating Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks 14-2, Barrington 20-8, Cheviot Hills 18-12, and Northridge 13-6 before falling 8-0 to Balboa at Hjelte Sports Center in Encino.
“Balboa has been blowing teams out by 20 points and you held them to one score,” Pali Rec Center Director Erich Haas told the team afterwards. “We’re going to get a huge banner with all your names on it to hang in the gym.”
The team was comprised of the best players from the six Pali Rec Center teams and consisted of linebacker/running back Royce Clayton Jr. (Colts), quarterback Benson Fleisher (Colts), quarterback Henry Wendorf (Dolphins), safety Justin Sikola (Saints), wide receiver Stevie Purdholme (Colts), running back Elijah Clayton (Colts), wide receiver Caden Abraham (Bears), cornerback Jules Craft (Bears), safety Jack Bowden (Bears), cornerback Lucas Herman (Colts), linebacker Truman Pauley (Bears), linebacker Nicky Ketchum (Chiefs) and linebacker/running back Holden Gering (Dolphins).
“Last year we lost our first two [tournament games] and were out,” said head coach Steve Purdholme, who guided the Colts to an 8-0 regular season record along with assistant Mario Miranda. “Some of the boys had to make sacrifices and block or play different positions. Every team we played was bigger and more experienced. This is a special group.”
Clayton Jr. ran for four touchdowns in the tournament, Herman had three scoring catches, Fleisher had several key runs and throws and Gering anchored the defense.
Balboa scored the only in Saturday’s final on a 15-yard touchdown pass and subsequent two-point conversion run in the second quarter.
Pali High Girls Water Polo Seeks Return to City Final
The mission for the Palisades High girls water polo team this season is simple: get back to the City Section championship game and win it.
The Dolphins lost to Eagle Rock in last winter’s final and with more experience and a new coach they are determined to earn another shot at a first section title.
After starting the season with a 23-6 nonleague victory over El Camino Real at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center the Dolphins traveled to the Ayala Tournament last weekend and went 2-3, beating Valley View and Alta Loma.
“You always take it one game at a time and the key is to play as a team,” said Westside Aquatics Director Brad Silvers, who took over as coach in September. “We didn’t have a full team at the tournament and still did pretty well. Passing is the key to getting quality chances and penalty shots.”
In Monday’s league opener at LACES the Dolphins scored early and often, swimming to a 5-0 lead in the first quarter on their way to a 15-7 triumph.
Sophomore Jackie Au led the way with seven goals. Mardell Ramirez, Clara Saab, and Genesis Carballo each added two and Lilly Ramos and Jennifer Garcia had one apiece. “We like to move it around a lot because it’s harder for the goalie to set up and we have a lot of different options,” Au said. “Playing at [Junior Olympics] over the summer taught me so much. I actually know how to play now.”
Soccer Teams Net League Wins
After suffering tough losses to start the season, Western League play is just what the doctor ordered for the Palisades High boys and girls soccer teams.
The boys opened defense of their league title last Wednesday at Venice and emerged with a 3-0 victory on goals by Kavian Kashani, Joob Sanchez and Chad Johnson.
Two days later the Dolphins took on Fairfax at Stadium by the Sea and prevailed 2-0 on second-half goals by Johnson and Victor Morales.
On Monday, the team improved to 3-0 in league with a 3-0 win against Hamilton. Barron Chavez, Nick DeRobbio and Bill Batbayar tallied for the Dolphins.
Meanwhile, the girls have been even more dominant in league play and also have not allowed a goal.
In their home opener against Venice the Dolphins won 5-0. Lulu Adams scored twice in the second half and Haydn Peffer, Erin Ross and Katie Wilkes each added a goal.
Five different players scored in Friday’s 5-0 win at Fairfax: Kaitlyn Parcell, Erin Ross, Caitlin Bremner, Lauryn Wilson and Zoe Capanna.
On Monday, Hannah DeSilva and Isabella Viana each netted two goals in a 4-0 triumph over visiting Hamilton.
The girls host Santa Monica in a nonleague game Jan. 8 and the boys host Samo Jan. 10.
Earning Respect One Win at a Time
Pali High Boys Basketball Rallies to Beat El Camino Real for Third Place in El Segundo
Despite finishing third in the perennially tough Western League and reaching the state playoffs last year the Palisades High boys basketball team started the season under the radar.
However, the Dolphins turned some heads last Saturday night after scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter to stun defending City Section Division I champion El Camino Real 59-53 in the third- place game of the El Segundo Tournament.
“We were tenacious on defense and potent on offense,” Pali High head coach Vejas Anaya said. “We scored in many different ways and our conditioning really showed at the end.”
Anaya changed the starting lineup after the previous night’s 62-41 defeat to Southern Section powerhouse Loyola — inserting Shomari Dunham, Ron Artest and Monroe Gordon to play with guards Joe Robinson and Will Johnson and his players responded. Johnson made four three-point baskets on his way to 20 points and earned All-Tournament honors. George Brown came off the bench to score eight points and pull down eight rebounds.
The Dolphins opened pool play with a 64-46 victory over Crossroads, then routed Lakewood 82-56 behind 20 points and six steals from point guard Shane Williams, 18 points from Robinson and eight points and nine assists from Johnson.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing Loyola — it’s a revenge game for us,” Robinson said before taking on the Cubs, one of the top ranked teams in the Southern Section. “It’s a chance to go up against one of the best guards around [Max Hazzard].”
Loyola ended the Dolphins’ season last winter with an 86-55 victory in the opening round of the state tournament. The rematch was far more competitive, as Palisades pulled to within 11-8 late in the first quarter and opened the second half on a 6-0 run to cut its deficit to 13. Robinson scored 14 points, Johnson had 10 and Brown had 12 rebounds.
“Weren’t intimidate, we were just turning the ball over and weren’t boxing out so they were getting rebounds,” Johnson said. “I like playing teams as good or better than teams in our league.”
“We have a defense-first mentality,” Williams said. “We turn our defense into offense and all of us guards can distribute the ball.”
In Monday’s 49-44 loss to Cantwell-Sacred Heart in the first round of the Beverly Hills Tournament, Artest recorded his first double-double with the Dolphins (12 points, 10 rebounds) and committed only one foul.
Williams scored 16 points, including four three-pointers, and Christian Hodge grabbed eight rebounds for the Dolphins, who fell behind 13-4 in the first quarter and trailed 28-17 at halftime before scoring 19 points to close within four in the final quarter.
“We’ve given some young guys playing time and they’ve responded,” said Anaya, a former Dolphins player who remembers scoring a career-high 30 pts in a double-overtime victory over Hart in the 1996 championship game. “Shane [Williams] was outstanding running the offense and taking charges. We negated their inside game, they just made a few contested threes.”
Roscoe Bellamy Repeats as Eddie Herr Doubles Champ
Every tennis player dreams of being the best in the world in their age group and for Palisadian Roscoe Bellamy fantasy is fast becoming reality.
Bellamy just captured his second doubles title at the Eddie Herr International Championships, played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
The Palisades Tennis Center trainee won the 14s division with regular practice partner Keenan Mayo of Northern California after winning the 12s division with Sangeet Sridhar in 2012.
Seeded No. 2, Bellamy and Mayo did not drop a set en route to the title, beating Kang Wanseok and Hoonki Jung of Korea 6-0, 6-4 in the first round; Chris Herrera and Mu Tao Turkmenistan of Puerto Rico 6-0, 7-5 in the round of 16; Sebastian Korda and William Woodall from the United States 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, Thomasz Dudek and Paluch Karol of Poland 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals; and Andrew Fenty and Bryan Shi from the United States 7-6, 6-2 in the final.
Working with tennis fitness guru Pat Etcheberry, who has trained such champions as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles and Justine Henin, the California kids staked their claim to the No. 1 ranking.
In addition to his doubles triumph, the eighth-seeded Bellamy reached the semifinals in singles, losing 6-4, 7-6 eventual champion Nicolas Mejia. Bellamy beat Ryuya Inoue 6-3, 6-1 in the first round, Arslan Orashev 6-2, 6-3 in the second round, ninth-seeded Mayo 6-2, 6-1 in the round of 16 and Jaycer Calleros 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
In May, Bellamy won the 14s singles at the USTA National Sweet Sixteen and paired with Mayo to win the doubles title.
In October, Bellamy won the 16s singles and doubles titles at the USTA National Selection Tournament in Stockton and the 16s singles crown at the Orange County/J.P. Yamasaki Junior Tournament, where he defeated fellow Palisadian Ben Goldberg 6-2, 6-2 in the final.
Riviera resident Blake Griffin made a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Los Angeles Clippers to a 121-120 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night at Staples Center.
Griffin made 15 of his 17 free throw attempts and finished with a season-best 45 points — two shy of his career high — to go along with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal in leading the Clippers to their eighth win in a row.
The 25-year-old All-Star power forward is fourth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 24.0 points per game.