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‘Behind the Front Porch’

Pacific Palisades Front Porch Project Photographer Robin Aronson Concludes Series with the Palisadian-Post

By ROBIN ARONSON | Contributing Writer

My Pacific Palisades photography project came to an end on June 2—44 days after it began. I photographed 160 families and raised more than $17,000 for the Westside Food Bank.

As I finished this project, more and more people were starting to venture back out into the world. Nearly two months later, we are all finding our new normal while being careful, wearing masks and social distancing.

I am working within these guidelines and restrictions. My photography business is diverse: I shoot events, headshots, family photos, maternity, babies, lifestyle, products, commercial photography and real estate. Yes, my life has changed, but I am grateful to be working.

I photographed my first Zoom bar mitzvah, and have some small outdoor ceremonies and celebrations coming up in the near future. I also just completed a product and lifestyle shoot for a new mask company.

I turned my garage into a photography studio. The garage door stays open, allowing lots of fresh air and makes it easy to stay socially distant. This is perfect for professional headshots and my very exciting new “Box Photography.”

It has been wonderful sharing my Pacific Palisades Front Porch Project with you. Thank you to all who participated. I only wish I could have included every family’s photos and respective insights. I look forward to continuing capturing special moments—even during this time of crisis.

The Price Family

Tracey, David, David III, Bennett, Audrey and Winchester the dog

Our family of five had to make a quick transition at the beginning of this pandemic. Within 24 hours, we packed our son’s belongings at CU Boulder and told him, “Run to the airport and don’t miss that flight!”

My parents have thankfully been safely quarantined at their assisted living center, however people on their campus have died from COVID-19. It’s a scary feeling not being able to help them, let alone visit them.

We have a 10th grader and kindergartener who have remarkably adjusted to home-schooling. My husband strategically shifted a company of 250 employees to work remotely, while supplying masks and hand sanitizer to crews in the field. His company finished the renovation of Dodger Stadium without a delay.

I have continued to manage the residential landscape division and access our communities’ homes. Our family has been quite structured. One person goes to the office, one person goes to the market and our 6-year-old swims for hours each day.

Our puppy loves companionship. I’m not sure he will adjust to being home alone … ever again.

The Grant Family

Sherry, Geoff, Oliver, Avery, Owen, and Finley and Clementine the dogs

Food is everything to the Grants. This year I was fortunate to travel solo to India.

Why travel alone and leave your family? To show them that even an old lady can do it.

My husband loved his time traveling alone after college. My solo trip started March 7, just as the world was starting to have real issues.

Near the end of the trip the world was in the thick of COVID-19. My kids were angry that I was away. My husband was supportive and able to get me home a bit earlier than planned, just as borders were closing.

My family had me self-quarantine for two weeks. My eldest son, Oliver, took charge of all the shopping and performed most of the cooking while I was gone. Moving forward, Oliver graduated from Pali High, Class of 2020, while his twin brothers, Avery and Owen, culminated from Paul Revere.

Normally we would be heading out for a fantastic meal and a celebratory trip, but that will have to wait. Every day presents new challenges, but I hope we can be resilient and thrive in the moment.

Our picture showed us as we are; no fancy clothes, no fancy hair, no fancy make-up, no shaves. We’re just keeping it real and supporting those less fortunate.

The Tarnuzzer Family

Kristiana, Mark, Luka and Kosette

Quarantining has been a bittersweet balancing act. While we miss the in-person connection with our family and friends, we are able to slow down and appreciate the simpler things.

Our days are spent divided between academics, creative projects and outside play time. We also have been FaceTiming our friends and family for much-needed catch ups.

We get to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together. The weekends are filled with road trips to new places. We moved to California from the East Coast only two years ago, so we still get a thrill of all the beauty in this state!


Robin Aronson can be found at robinaronsonphotography.com or Instagram @RobinAronsonPhotography.

 

Local Teen Named KNX Hero of the Week for ‘Fiddler on the Lawn’ Concert Series

Photos by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

By JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter

Seeking a way to give back to her community during the pandemic and also raise money for a local grief support center, Palisadian Alexandra “Sasha” Schoettler created the “Fiddler on the Lawn” concert series—earning her the title of Hero of the Week from KNX radio.

Sasha, 16, a Palisades Charter High School student and former intern for the Palisadian-Post, organized the weekly string quartet concert series with help from her mother, professional violinist Nina Evtuhov, to fundraise for Our House.

“It has brought so much joy for our neighborhood during these difficult COVID-19 times,” Nahid Massoud, who has attended each of the concerts, shared in an email to the Post.

The idea for “Fiddler on the Lawn” came to Sasha after she noticed how many people passing by their house were enjoying listening to her mom play the violin in duets with her friends in their yard.

She decided to set up the weekly concerts at her grandmother Tanya Evtuhov’s front lawn in El Medio Bluffs.

“We try to do them every Friday from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.,” Sasha shared. The plan is to continue the concerts each week throughout the summer.

“Our very first concert … we raised over $500 at that,” Sasha said. “It was really, really cool.”

There have been 10 concerts so far in the Fiddler on the Lawn series.

“It really brings a new social aspect to this coronavirus thing,” Sasha shared. “It’s really for people of all ages and for older people to have a break in their routine.”

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Schoettler

Her mother, a graduate of the Yale School of Music, performs mostly classical music, such as last week’s performance of Schubert, Mendelsohn and Mozart. Nina’s friends volunteer their time to come and play music with her in the series—all with social distancing measures in mind.

For the lawn concerts, they don’t rehearse: “They just sight-read,” Sasha explained. “It’s an adventure for them.”

Her grandmother, Tanya, has lived in the Palisades since the 1960s. Her mother grew up in the Palisades, and so have Sasha and her sister, Clara. Sasha and Clara and their mom all attended Marquez Charter Elementary and Paul Revere Charter Middle schools.

Sasha collects donations from the concert and gives them to Our House, a local grief center providing support to adults, teens and children, which she understands from her own experience.

“I went to grief support groups,” Sasha, whose father passed away in 2010, explained. “I was very aware of what they were doing and I wanted to help. We appreciate anything anyone is willing to give us, and we’ve been able to raise so far [more than] $3,000.”

Our House recently nominated Sasha as KNX’s Hero of the Week. She received the honor and was featured on the radio, Palisadian Robin Blau, volunteer for Our House Grief Support Center, shared with the Post.

During the pandemic and as the need to be socially distant continues, Sasha and her mother plan to continue the “Fiddler on the Lawn” concert series for Palisadians to enjoy.

“We’re all really excited about the money we’ve been raising for Our House and want to continue fundraising for them for as long as we can,” Sasha said.

The Fiddler on the Lawn series has an email list and sends weekly newsletters. For more
information or to be added to the list, email fiddleronthelawn@gmail.com.

Ask BBB


Q: We have been pretty strict about social distancing. Will not seeing friends or family for a few months have a long-term effect on my children? Outside of FaceTime and Zoom, should we find ways to incorporate visits into our schedule?

Yours is a question about which many (most?) parents are concerned as the critical social distancing has dragged on through summer. How I wish I or anyone could definitively say what the effects of social distancing, distance learning, virtual playdates will have on our children going forward.

As a developmentalist, my greatest concern for our children is not a disruption in their cognitive development, their academic school learning. We will get a handle on this pandemic sooner or later, and our children will be back learning in school. More importantly, children learn and grow cognitively wherever they are. I am talking about our children’s social and emotional development.

You did not mention the age of your children. It is important because we know that different age children are affected differently, based just on typical child development.

Children tend to be adaptable and resilient. Children (humans) are biologically wired to adapt. Dr. Jack Shonkoff at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child says, “If we weren’t, we would have gone extinct like the dinosaurs. We wouldn’t be able to survive because the environment is always changing.”

Children grow up in all kinds of situations—from nuclear families to communes; with just parents to only constant care givers—with each of which they manage to adapt, learn and grow.

What we do know is that our younger children will be affected differently than our teens. Social deprivation is a different experience for a 7-year-old than it is for a 17-year-old.

The skills that are critical for young children to acquire include becoming self-reliant, coping with challenges, becoming emotionally literate, empathizing with others and taking responsibility for their actions. While these are best learned out in the social world, all can be developed in a distanced home environment, too.

For our younger kids, there is great value in the relationships they have at home with siblings or even pets. In families with more than one child, siblings help one another with many aspects of social living—turn taking, waiting, negotiating, resolving conflicts (or not!). Even pets can teach empathy, perspective taking and responsibility. Lots of learning can happen at home for young children.

For older kids it’s a whole different story. We know that the developmental task of middle schoolers and teens is identity formation and forging friendships. This age group could be the hardest hit as they are supposed to be separating from their parents … not hanging out with them at home.

In addition to development, this complicated, layered, frustrating time in all our lives will affect each of us differently because each one of us is different emotionally. Each of us has a different capacity for dealing with frustration and for getting our social needs met. Each of us has a different temperament, so our responses to social deprivation will be different.

Children who have social anxiety or who were dealing with bullying at school might find the social distancing a relief. Those with a not-so-happy homelife might suffer from being out of school or camp.

It is known that secure attachments with parents set up children of all ages to have stronger friendships, whether virtual or in person. You need to have fun together, enjoy together, laugh together. These experiences have tremendous power—not only for healing but for building immunity and tolerance.

Some professionals have pointed out that parents who are excessively worried about what their children are missing, who are frantically trying to replace the missing pieces, may be doing more damage than the missing out could cause. To reduce the tension the children will absorb, parents need to stop catastrophizing and let go of the anxiety. There is value to what the children are getting at home. For some it is plain old fun; for others it is time to do whatever, including daydreaming.

Studies have shown that children of all ages don’t need swarms of friends or specific kinds of interactions in order to grow and survive socially. In fact, it has been found that having just one good friend can help children socially and emotionally.

While I cannot say how or if your children will be affected, I can say that now is the time to be resourceful. The need for socializing remains. Not only do I suggest brainstorming with your older children about how they might safely socialize, but do your research.

Ask your friends; check out Nextdoor; look at different Facebook social groups; use Google for ideas for socially distant experiences. But do not compromise your beliefs. Just because someone else thinks something is safe, doesn’t mean it is safe for you. And remember a little experience with a child will go a long way.

While socializing with peers and others is essential to development, in these strange times, we have to do the best we can do. Now let’s all cross our fingers for light at the end of the tunnel. This strange time is not forever; it is for now.


BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com.

CRIME REPORT

Robbery

Ocean Way/Entrada, July 29 at 10:05 p.m. The suspects (#1-3 male black, 20 years) approached the victim, pointed a handgun at victim and demanded victim’s property. The suspects took victim’s property and fled the area.


Burglary/Theft from Vehicle


1500 Will Rogers State Park Rd
, July 20 between 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The suspect pried open a door on victim’s vehicle, and took a wallet and money.

16300 Pacific Coast Hwy, between July 12 at 11:30 p.m. and July 13 at 11 a.m. The suspect took license plates from victim’s vehicle.


Provided by LAPD Senior Lead Officer Michael Moore. In case of emergency, call 911. To report a non-emergency, call 877-275-5273.

Priscilla Schmidt Tomajan

Priscilla Schmidt Tomajan, 78, passed away after a long illness on Tuesday, July 21.

Priscilla A. Schmidt was born on December 6, 1941, in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, where she lived with her parents, Gilma and Henry Schmidt, and her brother, John Henry.

Her creativity and love of the arts emerged at a young age. She designed clothing for her dolls and created ethereal ballet costumes for a school performance. She grew up with a large extended family, surrounded by adoring cousins.

She was sent to California so that she might attend high school while staying with family in the Los Angeles area. She graduated from L.A. High School in 1959.

After high school, she moved to Burlingame, California, where she worked for the telephone company. She continued drawing and painting in her spare time.

Priscilla met her future husband, Don Tomajan, on a blind date in LA, and when Don accepted a position in Washington, D.C., she soon followed him there.

Upon her arrival, she got a job at the InterAmerican Defense Board. They were married in Arlington, Virginia, in 1964 and welcomed their daughters, Kimberly and Kathleen, to the family in 1965 and 1967, respectively.

In 1969 the family moved to Honolulu, Hawai’i, and bought a home in Hawai’i Kai. In 1972, three years later, the family again relocated to Santa Monica while waiting for their home to be completed in the Palisades Highlands. The family moved into their new home in May 1973.

The two girls attended Marquez Elementary where their mother Priscilla was an active parent volunteer. She and her friend Yvonne Mehterian co-created Art Alley in one of the enclosed hallways on campus. At Art Alley students could work in various media, including painting, ceramics and batik. The two friends also collaborated on the design of the Marquez Haunted House and made props out of paper mache.

While Kathleen was at Marquez, Priscilla was girl scout troop leader. One of the most memorable badges for the girls was when the scouts taught their parents to dance “The Hustle.”

Priscilla made the holidays special for her family. She dreamed up unique Halloween costumes for her girls and would often dress up as well. One year she inadvertently scared younger trick or treaters when she answered the door as a beautiful spooky spider lady.

Priscilla loved the opulence and beauty of Christmas. She enjoyed welcoming family and friends to their home, which was filled with glittering decorations, garlands and a beautiful tree. She never missed her favorite ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

Priscilla served as president of the Pacific Palisades Art Association and was a member of a group of textile artists called Seaside Weavers. She made soft sculpture baskets and created woven wall hangings.

Priscilla was ahead of her time in working with handmade paper and created several stunning large-scale wall-mounted sculptures. She was always stylish and added personal touches to what ever she was wearing, including gowns for the annual Air Force Ball and other black tie occasions.

In 1994, Priscilla and Don divorced. She bought a home in Ontario, California, to be close to extended family. She was in her element, decorating and creating a lush garden there. When her health began to fail, Priscilla moved in with her brother, John Henry, who cared for her until her passing.

She is survived by her daughters, Kimberly and Kathleen, her son-in-law, John, her grandson, Marc, her brother, John Henry, and her dog, Siggy.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Priscilla Tomajan’s name to rainforest-alliance.org and worldwildlife.org.

Young Palisadian Crafts Mask-Necklaces to Raise Funds for Westside Food Bank

Skylar Jennings
Photos courtesy of Skylar Jennings

By LILY TINOCO | Reporter

For the past two months, 11-year-old Palisadian Skylar Jennings has been running her own Etsy shop, selling custom mask-necklaces and raising proceeds to donate to the Westside Food Bank.

Jennings, who wanted to create something useful during the COVID-19 pandemic and give back to her surrounding community, hand-makes customizable mask-necklaces for both children and adults.

Her creation clips onto both ends of a face mask—reminiscent of a chain for eyeglasses. It can also be clipped together without the mask to be worn as a custom necklace.

“Since I have a lot of beads at home, I had the idea of making them for my family and friends,” Jennings said to the Palisadian-Post. “We posted a photo on Instagram and people were asking if I would make them one, and one person even asked if I had an Etsy shop. From there, I made BEadSAFEcreations.”

Buyers can choose from an assortment of colors, materials, and charms or pearls for their mask-necklace. There are colored cotton cords to choose from, as well as silver, copper and gunmetal solid chains. Buyers also have the option to personalize their mask-necklace with their name, favorite sports team, a quote and more.

“I personally really like the ones that are customized special … like when it says your name with a special bead that represents you and your personality,” Jennings said. “We can make it fancy or more casual, making it go with your personality and different colors.”

Samples of mask-necklaces crafted by Jennings

For the most part, she makes all the necklaces herself. Jennings said her mom chips in and helps when she finds herself with a lot of orders, but she enjoys her time making the necklaces.

“It’s super easy and it’s super fun to do, I had a blast thinking up the name and doing all of that stuff because it’s super fun to experience and something new I haven’t tried before,” Jennings said about her entrepreneurial debut. “We thought of BEadSAFEcreations because we’re making different creations … and we’re using beads.”

So far she has had 23 sales on Etsy, which is described as a “top shop for gifts” from previous buyers and holds a five-star rating.

“These are so useful … I received mine and cannot wait to wear it. These are great for gifts,” according to a review of the mask-necklace on the site.

Jennings said her shop has made $500 as the Post went to print Tuesday evening, halfway to her $1,000 goal.

Samples of mask-necklaces crafted by Jennings

“All the proceeds are going to the Westside Food Bank because, especially now, people used to get their food from school and now they can’t anymore because they can’t go to school,” Jennings said. “And some people are losing their jobs so they need help getting food on their table every single day … I think it’s really sad.”

Jennings said she has always been creative and enjoys making crafts—she doesn’t plan on wrapping up her business anytime soon. Jennings, who is heading into fifth grade at Village School this fall, will continue making the mask-necklaces when school starts again.

“I really want everyone to be safe and I really like that the money is going somewhere helpful and to people who need it,” she said to the Post.

Jennings added that mask-necklaces help ensure that people never leave their homes without their mask, “so BEadSAFE and order a necklace.”

For more information or to check out Jennings’ Etsy shop, visit etsy.com/shop/BEadSAFEcreations.

Jamie Lee Curtis to Return in ‘Halloween Kills’ Sequel

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter 

Palisadian Jamie Lee Curtis is back in the slasher genre as she reprises her role for the next two installments in the Halloween trilogy—“Halloween Kills” in 2021 and “Halloween Ends,” slated for 2022.

In the 2018 hit horror movie “Halloween,” Curtis plays Laurie Strode, who confronts her long-time enemy, Michael Myers. The masked figure has haunted her since she narrowly escaped a killing spree on Halloween night decades before.

The latest film, “Halloween Kills,” is about the outrage fueling the community. With Strode’s experience hunting serial killer Myers, she’s now in the position to give advice in this installment.

“She’s a voice of both insight and reason that is trying to give a volatile community some sense of purpose in this film,” David Gordon Green, director, recently shared in Total Film magazine.

Strode will be in the hospital still recovering from injuries from the 2018 film and “serve as the film’s emotional core.”

Green (“Pineapple Express”) and the cast—including Curtis, Andi Matichak (“Making It: The Series”) and Judy Greer (“13 Going on 30,” “Ant-Man”)—returned for the next two pictures.

Matichak has the lead role, playing Allyson. Greer plays Allyson’s mother and Strode’s daughter, Karen. Anthony Michael Hall also has a featured role as Tommy Doyle.

Based on characters written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the writing team consists of Green, Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down”) and Scott Teems (“Rectify”).

“Halloween Kills” is anticipated to be out before Halloween 2021. “Halloween Ends,” slated to be out the year after, has Curtis returning as Strode to carry the trilogy to its conclusion.

Topanga Canyon Gallery Exhibits Works by Local Artist

Photos by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Kit Plumridge’s ‘Plague Punk – Steampunk goes Viral’ is Now on Display

By JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter 

In a twist of fate, artist Kit Plumridge, 63, started a project—which began with a few masks—a year and a half before the pandemic, his wife, Megan, shared with the Palisadian-Post.

“Typically, life is imitating art,” Kit said, “but now we have art imitating life.”

Megan explained that Kit designed concepts that began with a few masks and grew to be 13 in all, each paired with a musical instrument to make 26 pieces total.

The pieces, Kit’s “Plague Punk – Steampunk goes Viral” exhibit, are on display at the Topanga Canyon Gallery through August 16.

All of the masks, hats and goggles are made of leather and hand stitched.

“Each character has its own story, related to steampunk and Jules Verne,” Megan continued.

Typically, Kit focuses on oil on canvas, but he said that it has been a “really gratifying experience making these leather heads and the associated instruments.”

For the project, Kit channeled his alter ego, Kitonious V Plumii, as a muse, and developed this theme park art as a result: “I’m branding this steampunk art that I do and ultimately, it’s going to grow into something much bigger.”

The show’s pièce de résistance is created with a Pachinko machine Kit owned—a Japanese gambling machine that has been converted into a jukebox. It lights up and plays songs.

He chose Alon Goldsmith and Dale Yudelman songs written in 1980, as well as some audio excerpts of passages by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and George Orwell novels, since all of those books are in the public domain.

Kit said that he will only be selling his work in pairs and is considering selling the entire work as a collection.

The Sunset Mesa resident has been featuring his work at Topanga Canyon Gallery for at least seven years. He shared that his 2019 collection, “Steampunk Drawing Machine,” was incredibly well received and precipitated his 2020 showcase.

“I’ve done a show there every year,” Kit said, “and this year, I’m doing a solo show due to COVID-19.” The show is also shorter than usual due to the pandemic.

The gallery is open for limited hours, but those interested in stopping by can book a personal tour or appointment.

“Plague Punk – Steampunk goes Viral” took Kit two years to complete. He began with the musical instruments and then he began to create the heads. The characters are either a torso or head-and-shoulder vignette.

“I normally name my characters after Jules Verne and H.G. Wells characters,” Kit said. “I’m attracted to the steampunk genre and it’s related to those authors.”

You take a modern object and you do something to it anachronistic to make it look like it’s in the industrial revolution, Kit explained.

However, after not finding many female characters in these books written around 1865, he created what he imagined behind-the-scenes strong female characters would be like, such as a Mrs. Nemo relating to Verne’s novel, “Captain Nemo.”

Kit has been an artist his whole life, actively painting for the past 15 years. He grew up in South Africa, attended a traditional Irish Catholic boarding school and was conscripted into the South African army at 18.

At the age of 36, Kit and his family relocated to California, finding a home on the coast, where he has resided the past 27 years.

Plumridge has been married to Megan for 38 years and the couple has two kids: Timothy, 31, and Caroline, 30. Since all of the family are artists in their own right, they hope to one day do a family art show.

Kit shared that he has many plans for future work, and the pandemic has actually provided him an opportunity to focus. He’s embarking on a project to make three to five cut-out birch plywood sculptures of people doing yoga poses, covered with a leather skin.

He plans to make the pieces so massive, he can’t just do them in one shot. Kit will alternate his time with painting.

Kit also has a passion for sailing and surfing, and he’s crafted a series of brightly colored lifeguard towers inspired by fellow Palisadian Ed Massey.

Though it has been six months since Kit has painted, he soon will begin creating 3D towers—standalone mini sculptures of the lifeguard towers in all different sizes.


For more information visit kitplumridge.com or follow @kitplumridge on Instagram.

Dolphins of Destiny

Leilani Estavan (left) and Nicole Funn with the City championship trophy after Palisades’ rout of Washington at Pauley Pavilion in 1999.
Photo: Agustin Tabares

A Look Back at the Palisades High Girls Basketball Team’s Magical March to Arco Arena in 1999

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

No one knows whether or not the Palisades High girls basketball team would have won the CIF Division II state championship back in March. The coronavirus outbreak denied the Dolphins their trip to Sacramento to take on Northern California champion Oakland Tech.

The only other time in program history the Dolphins ever made it that far was 21 years earlier when a former LA Lakers ball boy guided a young but talented group of young ladies to their first City Section title, their first regional title and within one basket of their first state crown.   

The Dolphins had lost to Narbonne in the City finals the year before and when the Gauchos were banned from postseason play in 1998-99 for using ineligible players, Palisades went from being just a contender to the overwhelming favorite.    

Kevin Hall, who coached the team along with Joi Tanita, called the season “difficult,” and no one imagined a group with only three seniors would do what it did, especially after a mediocre 4-4 start.

“There was a bunch of adversity from the very beginning to even after the final buzzer of the season,” recalls Hall, who lives in Inglewood and teaches at Wilson High in El Sereno. “We were playing bad. I told the girls why should we look good and play like that? I did some Phil Jackson stuff and made them turn in their uniforms. We played in practice uniforms and I gave them back after the win in the [Martin Luther King Classic] because I was pleased with their fight versus Berkeley. We started off slowly but kicked it into gear right after Christmas when we smashed everyone in the Marina Huntington Beach Tournament. They thought we were a joke, but the joke was on them.”    

The squad was paced by two outstanding seniors: point guard Leilani Estavan, who won the Palisadian-Post Cup Award as the school’s outstanding senior athlete that spring, and Nicole Funn, an athletic forward with slick post moves. Complementing them were two explosive guards, April Freeney and Itricia Ewells. Estavan went on to play four years at Oregon State. Funn began her college career there as well but ended up transferring to Pepperdine.   

Palisades rolled through Coastal Conference play undefeated and got seeded No. 1 in the City Section Division I playoffs. After routs of No. 16 Birmingham (84-26), No. 8 Venice (69-29) and No. 4 North Hollywood (74-45) the Dolphins found themselves facing No. 3-seeded Washington in the finals at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. It was no contest. The Generals were unable to handle the Dolphins’ stifling full-court press, committing 15 turnovers, and Palisades built an insurmountable 40-18 halftime lead on its way to a resounding 79-36 blowout.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate our performance about a 9.5,” said Estavan, who had 20 points and seven assists. Funn was unstoppable in the paint with 29 points and seven offensive rebounds.

Their 43-point margin of victory helped earn the surging Dolphins the top seed in the CIF Southern California Regional Division I tournament (there was no Open Division then, so Division I was the highest).    

Leilani Estavan reacts after hitting a three-pointer against Peninsula in the regional finals at Cox Arena in San Diego.
Photo: Agustin Tabares

The winning streak seemed in jeopardy at halftime of Palisades’ first-round home game against San Clemente when the Dolphins found themselves trailing by 11 points. However, the Tritons’ best player Colleen Turnbull left the game with a badly sprained ankle early in the second quarter and Palisades took full advantage, erupting for 25 unanswered points in a nine-minute stretch of the second half en route to a 53-40 win.   

The game Hall remembers the most is the regional final—a rematch versus Southern Section Division I-AA champion Palos Verdes Peninsula, which had defeated Palisades 47-45 earlier in the season when the Dolphins were missing Funn. This time, she netted 10 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter and Estavan added 15 in a 53-41 triumph at Cox Arena on the campus of San Diego State.

Hall referred to it as “revenge at its finest.”

A week later, Palisades (29-4) traveled north to Arco Arena (now called Golden 1 Center), home site of the Sacramento Kings, in the unusual role of underdog, to face San Jose Archbishop Mitty, ranked No. 1 in California and ninth in the country after ousting Berkeley, 61-53, to win the Northern California Regional.

The Monarchs (30-0) were hoping to complete an undefeated season led by junior guard Rometra Craig (daughter of former San Francisco 49ers star running back Roger Craig).    

It was then, on the night of Saturday, March 20, 1999, that Palisades nearly pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in state finals history. Trailing by seven points with only 90 seconds left the Dolphins  seemed doomed. However, they roared back for eight points in a row, taking the lead for the first time since the halfway mark of the second quarter on Estavan’s twisting layup with 22 seconds remaining.

That set the stage for a frantic finish. Palisades tried to press, but guard Aimee Grzyb penetrated the lane and fed forward Domenica Curran, who banked in a short jumper to give Mitty the lead back, 49-48.

Rather than call timeout, Palisaes tried to catch the Monarchs off guard, quickly pushing the ball up the court. Freeney launched a desperation 25-footer that missed the rim. However, it fell into the hands of Ewells at the side of the basket and she alertly released the ball before the buzzer. For an instant it looked like her off-balance shot would drop in for a miraculous winning basket. Instead, the ball rolled around the cylinder and out and Mitty players celebrated. 

April Freeney dribbles upcourt in the state final versus Archbishop Mitty at Arco Arena in Sacramento. The Dolphins lost, 49-48.
Photo: Agustin Tabares

“They match up well against us,” Mitty Coach Sue Phillips- Chargin said. “They continually got second and third chances. We were fortunate they missed a lot.”

The Dolphins let tears flow in the postgame interview room. Estavan was so distraught she didn’t even acknowledge being awarded the tournament’s statewide sportsmanship award.

Final stats revealed Palisades committed 29 turnovers and made only 14 of 27 free throws. Funn led the way with 14 points and 15 rebounds but fouled out with 3:11 left and her team down by two.  

“We win that game if Nicole doesn’t foul out,” Hall laments now. “I read Mitty Coach Sue’s comment. Yes, she was very fortunate that we missed a lot. Her undefeated record would’ve been tarnished. Honestly, I’d have rather gotten blown out than lose that way. Looking back, I really didn’t expect us to make it that far.”

The 1998-99 girls basketball team nearly joined the 1979 girls volleyball team as the only ones in school history to win a state title.

At 5-7, Hall was shorter than many of the girls he coached, but his record spoke for itself. In his first four seasons he led the Dolphins to three City title games—­not bad for a walk-on barely five years out of high school himself. He started helping out three hours a day as an unpaid assistant to Tanita in December 1995.

In his fourth season, Coach Kevin Hall guided Palisades to 25 straight victories and its first City Section girls championship.
Photo: Agustin Tabares

“We’re very lucky to have Kevin, he’s done a fantastic job,” then Pali High athletic director Charlie Johnson said at the time.

The 1998-99 season remains the benchmark in Palisades hoops annals, but it didn’t take long for Hall’s old-school philosophy to generate some backlash. He left the next year but returned to coach the Dolphins through the 2003-04 campaign. The following year the sister-brother tandem of Ronda and Sheldon Crowley took over the varsity and JV while Torino Johnson coached frosh/soph.

Johnson took over the varsity in 2007-08 and over the next 10 seasons he led the program to four City titles (two in Division II, two in the Open Division) before resigning in 2017 to join the women’s staff at Cal State LA.

Current coach Adam Levine has kept the Dolphins on the winning track, leading them to a City Division I title two years ago and the City Open Division and Division II regional titles last winter.

The 1998-99 version, though, set the standard of excellence for all teams to follow and delivered the program its first City title.

Hitting His Spots

Pali High volleyball alum Akhil Tangutur made the Big West Conference All-Freshman Team as an outside hitter at UC Irvine.

Former Pali High Volleyball Standout Akhil Tangutur Is Making an Impact at UC Irvine

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

For four seasons at Palisades High, Akhil Tangutur was the go-to guy on the volleyball court. His fluid motion and vertical leap made his ability to pound the ball down for kills, often from seemingly impossible angles, look almost effortless. He was part of four undefeated Western League championship teams and three City title-winning teams and he earned City Player of the Year honors as a junior, leading the Dolphins to the section’s inaugural Open Division title. As a senior in 2019 he helped Palisades rack up a school-record 42 victories on its way to the CIF Southern California Regional Division I semifinals. He was a member of the AVCA All-America Watch List and a Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 honoree while playing for Pac6 Volleyball Club. He competed with the USA Youth National Team in the summer of 2018 and was on the training team for the FIVB World Championships in 2019. His first season at UC Irvine was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, but he averaged 12.0 kills and 5.33 digs over his last three matches and he made the Big West Conference All-Freshman Team. When the season was canceled UC Irvine was 10-7, including four-set victories over Stanford at Bren Events Center on Jan. 17 and at USC on Feb. 1. The Anteaters also went 2-1 at the Outrigger Tournament in Hawaii. A 6-foot-2 outside hitter, Tangutur played in 16 of the team’s 17 matches, accumulating 38 kills, 24 digs, four blocks, three assists and three aces in 57 total sets. He was named Big West Freshman of the Week twice (March 2 and March 9). He is hard at work preparing for what he hopes will be a breakthrough sophomore season with the Anteaters and he took time out last week for an interview with the Palisadian-Post: 

PP: What have you been up to since the season ended abruptly?

AT: I’ve been doing well during quarantine so far, spending good time with the family and at home.

PP: What do you miss most about Palisades? Do you keep in touch with any of your Dolphins teammates?

AT: Probably the biggest thing is playing with most of those guys year-round and the chemistry that we were able to build up over the four years. That’s definitely something that you’ll remember for life. It was awesome to see us emerge from a group of talented volleyball players into a family that became close on and off the court. I definitely keep in touch with all of my former teammates, some of whom are still playing and doing really well, which is super exciting for me to see.

PP: What did it mean to you making the Conference All-Freshman team?

AT: That meant a lot to me, especially it being my “true freshman” year. Playing with players like Scott Stadick and Joel Schneidmiller day in and day out and the rest of my teammates made me better in so many different ways and I felt like I was always improving throughout the season. At this level where everyone’s so good, it’s really important to still focus on the small things and I think I really dedicated time to putting in extra work in the gym and spending those hours on little details that in the long term will help my game a lot.

PP: How disappointing was it having the season cut short because of COVID? How do you think your team would’ve fared in the Big West?

AT: I was pretty disappointed that our season got shortened because of COVID— mostly because our seniors would’ve played their last game without a formal senior-night or any notice. The season also got cut short right when we were playing really well as a team and just got on a nice little win streak, but we’ll carry that same momentum into next year and how we train over summer and into fall. I definitely think our team would’ve done very well in the Big West purely because of how we match up against the other teams in our conference. I believe our team knows how to block the ball and play out of system as one of the best teams in the entire country and we were able to demonstrate that ability in multiple matches.

PP: What was your freshman experience like? Did you live in the dorms with teammates or off campus? Was it harder or easier than you expected?

AT: I roomed with a freshman teammate, Garo Barsemian (who played at Crescenta Valley High in La Crescenta). At first, we weren’t very close, but within a couple of weeks, we became best friends. It was super nice since we lived in a double on campus. Our other freshman ended up rooming with non-athletes which is a great experience, but I’m so glad Garo and I roomed with each other and became brothers. It was definitely much smoother than I expected and I enjoyed every single part of it.

PP: Where do you fall on the depth chart heading into next season? Do you expect to be starting? 

AT: I’m not really sure where I am on the depth chart or whether or not I’m starting, but I want to do whatever I can to help my team and put us in the best position to win the national championship. That’s always been my mindset whenever topics like playing time come up.

PP: What was your most memorable match at Palisades and why?

AT: My most memorable match for Pali was definitely when we played South Torrance my junior year in the CIF Division I regional quarterfinals because the atmosphere was unreal in our gym and that was one of my last games with the Stuart brothers (Jeff and Scott). South was a strong team but we won it in four. The love on that team was crazy. We had such good team chemistry and we played super well together.

Hitter Akhil Tangutur (facing) earned Player of the Year honors as a junior at Palisades High in 2018, leading the Dolphins to the City Section’s inaugural Open Division championship.
Photo: Craig Weston

PP: What match at UC Irvine stands out?

AT: My most memorable match was definitely against Grand Canyon in their small gym because it was super packed and very loud. We were able to pull off a reverse sweep (winning the last three sets) and I had a pretty well-rounded game. There’s nothing better than completing a reverse sweep with your teammates that you spend day in and day out grinding with. Also having 16 kills, which was my season high, was definitely pretty cool!

PP: What is UC Irvine head coach David Kniffin like compared to your Palisades coach, Carlos Gray?

AT: Coach Kniffin and Coach Gray definitely have two different coaching styles but I love both of their styles and I’m getting better on and off the court which is the most important thing. I really enjoy Coach Kniff’s coaching style and it’s been super important for me because I’ve grown so much this year as a player and a person. I’m very thankful for him and the way he runs the program.

PP: Is Division I college volleyball as hard as you expected? What is a typical day like during the season?

AT: It’s definitely the way I expected it. A typical day usually looks like waking up around 9 a.m., going to classes and having my school day, then having lifting and volleyball one after the other at night, so basically from 5 p.m. onwards we’re occupied and grinding in the gym, so we dedicate a lot of time to volleyball and practicing, whether it be as a team or personally getting solo reps.

PP: What do you do to stay in shape and keep your conditioning despite the restrictions?

AT: So far this summer I’ve been doing workouts at home just because the gyms near me have been closed and I don’t want to take any risks. We have a workout regimen that I’m sticking to which is real nice. I think the main thing to be consistently in shape is to keep being rhythmic with what you’re doing and to divvy up time to your workouts rather than just big chunks.

PP: So what is your vertical leap now?

AT: I don’t recall doing a measurement here but the last I remember it was somewhere in the mid-30s (inches) I’m pretty sure!