Athletes of the Year
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Another exciting year of sports is coming to an end in Pacific Palisades and it’s time to look back at some of the local athletes who inspired us with their will and their skill in 2018…
No one gave us more inspiration than wrestler Hamzah Alsaudi and swimmer Dora Seggelke. Their burning desire to be the best is what separated them from their peers and earned them Palisadian-Post Cup Awards as the outstanding senior athletes at Palisades High.
Alsaudi was all about winning and became a maestro on the mat, saving his virtuoso performance for the City Section Championships in February, when he scored four first-round pins to capture his third consecutive 195-pound title—the first Dolphins wrestler ever to accomplish that feat. He needed 15 seconds to vanquish Poly’s Ken Perez in the first round, barely over a minute to beat San Pedro’s Alex Davis in the quarterfinals and 1:36 to pin Sylmar’s Sergio Cabral in the semifinals before flipping Birmingham’s Moses Trujillo on his back and waited for the referee to signal the end at the 1:33 mark in the final. Alsaudi made more history a week later in Bakersfield, taking fifth place to become the first Pali High athlete to medal at the state meet.
Seggelke was the heart and soul of the Pali High swim team, captaining the girls to their ninth straight section crown and her unwavering commitment was never more evident than at the City finals meet in May when she competed with a broken wrist and who willed herself to second in the 200 individual medley, third in the 100 butterfly and first on two relays—swimming the butterfly leg on the Dolphins’ 200 medley relay that won by almost a full second and closing in style with a strong leg in the 400 freestyle relay.The girls won for the 12th time in 13 years with a whopping 579 points.
Contributing to that total was junior Alexis Kleshik, who repeated as City diving champion with a score of 519.80 after 11 stellar jumps from the 1-meter board at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center. She led by over 20 points after the semifinals and earned three “9s” from the five-judge panel on her 10th dive to all but seal the victory.
Jordan Wilimovsky of Sunset Mesa won the men’s 10K at the USA Open Water Nationals in May in Tempe, then won the 1500-meter freestyle race at the U.S. Swimming Championships in Irvine in July in a blazing 14:48.89. Less than a month ago the 24-year-old Team Santa Monica distance swimmer and former Will Rogers Junior Lifeguard won both the 400-meter freestyle and 800-meter freestyle events at USA Swimming’s Winter National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Riviera resident Adelaide Saab, a starting freshman on the Pali High girls water polo team, took first place in the female 14-17 age group in the Classic Distance Race of the Nautica Malibu Triathlon at Zuma Beach in September, completing the half-mile ocean swim in 14:03, the 17-mile out-and-back bike ride in 55:11 and the four-mile run in 32:55 for a total time of one hour, 46 minutes and 32 seconds—eight minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.
One year after winning the Post Cup Award, Dane Elkins proved he is still among the best racquetball players in the world in his age group. After earning a USA Racquetball Scholarship in June—one of only four players nationwide so honored—he and longtime partner Ricky Diaz of Stockton won the bronze medal in the Boys 18 Doubles division at the IRF World Junior Championships in San Luis Potosí, Mexico in November. Elkins also made the singles quarterfinals at his final junior event, taking a game off top-seeded Fernando Ruiz Michel of Bolivia.
On the basketball court, Max Miller and Caden Abraham led their LA Westside 16U squad to championship at the Maccabi Summer Youth Games in Orange County, piloted by Miller’s dad Rich, who collected his 16th gold and 20th medal in 20 years of coaching at the annual event.
Huntington resident Charley Wadler, a senior point guard, captained the Brentwood School boys team to its second CIF Southern Section title in a row in March, sinking a three-pointer to clinch the Eagles’ 48-41 triumph over Crossroads in the Division 2AA championship game. That came merely hours after freshman Sammy Wadler, Charley’s younger sister, hit a tying three-pointer, then made the game-winning layup to lead the Brentwood girls team to a 55-53 victory over Foothill Tech in the 4AA final.
Nobody was more impressive on the tennis court than Via Bluffs resident Chloe Bendetti, a Georgetown-bound senior at Oaks Christian High who won the Marmonte League singles title and completed the season with a perfect 26-0 record—the first player in school history ever to do so.
Pali High’s Jack Harrington and Tomas Huttepain won the City doubles title in the spring and in the fall twins Sophia and Ireland Amato led the Dolphins’ girls squad to its sixth straight City title and fellow senior Alex Miller reached the finals of the Individual doubles draw with sophomore partner Emma Akiyama.
Former Pali High player and Highlands resident Ilana Oleynik, now at Colorado, won her singles and doubles matches versus Washington in the Pac-12 Women’s Championships at the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament in April and enjoyed a perfect final day at the CU Invitational in September, winning her singes match 6-0, 6-0, and her doubles pro set 8-0.
Catherine Hou, now a freshman at Pali High, was a force on the diamond, leading her Santa Monica Fastpitch 14U Gold All-Star team to the USA Softball Southern California State Championship in Lancaster. The Riviera resident belted a three-run home run in the final game against Capo, which Santa Monica won in extra innings to finish 32-2. Hou played second base and went 6-for-13 at the plate over the three-day event, hitting for the cycle with three singles, one double, one triple and one homer.
Thanks to the efforts of All-City first-team defensive back Jake Nadley, punter Tommy Meek and running back Max Palees, the Pali High football team shared the league title and made the Open Division playoffs.
Miller Moss, a sophomore quarterback at Alemany High, passed for 2,714 yards and 19 touchdowns in the fall while Brentwood School senior Jack Tobey, who lives in the Riviera, paced the varsity squad in rushing (491 yards) and tackles (113) while leading the Eagles to an 8-1 record.
In the NFL, ex-Pali High All-City lineman Mitchell Schwartz has kept his “Ironman” streak alive.Now in his seventh year as a pro, the Kansas City Chiefs right tackle has started 111 straight games and he extended his consecutive snaps streak past 7,000 earlier this season.
Pali High senior distance runner Brent Smith ran into the record books in November when he finished third in the Division I race at the City cross country finals to become only the second male ever to place in the top 10 four times.
Sophomore Miranda Schriver took second and junior Sarah Bentley was third as the Dolphins placed second in the girls race and earned their seventh straight trip to the state finals in Fresno. In the spring, Bentley repeated as City 3200 champion and Brittany Darrow ran a personal-best 2:19 to win the 800 title.
Senior Bailey Jones won the triple jump in 46-00.75, took third in the 110-meter high hurdles in 15.16 seconds, took fourth in the long jump with a leap of 21-7.5 and ran on the third-place 4×100 relay to lead Palisades’ boys to third in the team standings at City finals.
A star on the Pali High varsity basketball team, Jane Nwaba utilized her agility and coordination to win the frosh/soph high jump (with a personal-best mark of 4-10) and triple jump (32-9). For good measure she took second in the long jump (14-10.75) as an alternate when one of the nine qualifiers scratched.
In August, Pali High’s Elizabeth Rene took fourth in the Women’s 17-18 Division of the 1500 meters at the USATF Hershey National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in North Carolina, clocking a PR 4:54.55. She was second in her heat to qualify for the finals. Three months earlier she placed third in the 1600 meters in 5:11.74 at the City track finals.
Highlands resident Ken Rideout was the 10K champion in the sixth annual Palisades Turkey Trot and finished third in the Palisades Will Rogers 10K on July 4.
Gwendolen Twist , a 43-year-old from the Alphabet Streets, just returned from the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Spokane, Washington, where she placed 18th in her age group to help The Jane’s Elite Racing team capture the title in the 40s age division. She ran the tough 6K course at Plantes Ferry Sports Complex in 24:09. Gwen was the second female finisher in the Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving and clocked a personal-best time of two hours, 54 minutes to win the female masters division at the Phoenix Marathon in February.
Pali High junior outside hitter Akhil Tangutur elevated to unprecedented heights in volleyball, earning City Player of the Year honors while leading the Dolphins to their second straight section banner, the semifinals of the Southern California Regionals and a top-five state ranking. Over the summer, he helped lead the U.S. Boys’ Youth National Team to the silver medal at the NORCECA U19 Championships in Costa Rica.
In the fall, Oregon-bound Alex Laita returned from injury in time to help the Dolphins’ girls claim their 30th City title, a school-record 40 wins and a state playoff victory. Senior setter Keely McMahon and middle blocker Annie Wibbelsman keyed a five-set City semifinal upset of top-seeded Granada Hills.
Jessica Yang, a sophomore setter on the Trinity College women’s volleyball team in Hartford, had a weekend to remember in September with 40 assists, nine digs, three aces and one kill against Rhode Island College; 26 assists, seven digs, three kills and one ace against Plymouth State; and 31 assists, seven digs, a kill and an ace against Amherst. She played in all 24 of the Bantams’ matches, recording a team-high 695 assists, 25 aces and 239 digs.
Pali High boys golf captain Ali Zafar-Khan shot a hole-in-one on a Par 3 in the Dolphins’ league match against Chatsworth on April 26 and birdied three holes to shoot 4-over par 76 and tie for fifth at the City Championships in Griffith Park.
Lillia Weissmuller and Melanie Matayoshi shot Pali High’s girls team to a third straight league crown and qualified for the SoCal regionals.
No Palisadian had a better year on the links, however, than rising star Kaila Elsayegh, a 6th-grader at Village School. In August, she won the U.S. Kids World Championship at Pinehurst No. 3 in North Carolina to establish herself as one of the world’s top players at her age. The straight-A student from the Highlands, who turned 12 in October, carded a first-round 69 and despite heavy rains followed with a 70 that was later erased because most of the field couldn’t complete the round. No problem, Elsayegh closed with a 5-under par 67 to finish at -8, good enough for a two-stroke victory.
In crew, Zach Steinfeld, a California Yacht Club rower who had just graduated from Brentwood School, placed seventh in the men’s double at the June Youth Nationals at Lake Natoma in Sacramento.
Martial artist Tamar Springer proved perseverance pays off when she took first place in both traditional forms and traditional weapons in the women’s adult black belt division at the 50th Battle of Atlanta Karate Championships in June.
Competing in her first tournament since a serious knee injury she suffered while performing at the Pacific Palisades Car Show in May 2017, Springer (who tested for her third-degree in July at Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Center) also mentored 14-year-old St. Matthew’s student Lily Kinnear to third in musical weapons and second in both traditional forms and weapons in her first black belt competition.
Tahitian Terrace resident and proud Optimist Club member Lee Calvert continues to show that age is just a number. In October, the 94-year-old traveled alone to the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah and returned with three gold medals around her neck. The oldest player—male or female—in the competition, Calvert won the 90-and-over singles, doubles and mixed doubles divisions.
On the soccer pitch, Ali Riley New Zealand women’s national team captain Ali Riley, who grew up in the Alphabet Streets and went to St. Matthew’s, signed as wing-back with English club Chelsea FC in July .
Courtney O’Brien, a lifelong Palisadian from Pacific View Estates, had a stellar junior year at Princeton, earning All-Ivy League soccer second team honors.
Paige Elliott, a 5th-grader at Palisades Elementary, represented California at the USA Climbing Boulder Nationals in Salt Lake City after placing fifth at the two-day California/Nevada Divisionals in Reno, Nevada.
Macchio Rissone broke Pali High’s career scoring mark while powering the boys lacrosse squad to its fourth City title in five years.