Since Being Reinstated, Pali High’s Boys Water Polo Team Has Ruled the City Under Coach Adam Blakis
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Back in the 1970s, Coach Dave Anderson coached the Palisades High boys water polo team to six consecutive City championships. The sport was then discontinued and when Adam Blakis revitalized the Dolphins’ program in 2011 he had no inclination that he would someday match, then surpass, the dynasty achieved by his predecessor.
Less than one month before that first season started, Blakis held tryouts and 63 boys competed hard for 22 roster spots. From there, two-a-day practices were conducted with summer workouts ranging from swimming and water polo scrimmages to various cardiovascular activities—all intended to get the players in tip-top condition for a grueling sport. Blakis admitted that if the team won a game, it would be a bonus.
On September 14 at the Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center, the Dolphins won their season opener, beating Taft 16-3, with senior Sam Elias tallying the first goal and sophomore hole setter Patrick Huggins netting five more in the first half alone. Palisades went on to win 11 more games before falling to Cleveland in the section quarterfinals. The Dolphins have not lost a City playoff game since—a streak they hope to continue this season, which they hope will begin as scheduled in December along with the girls season.
Palisades’ record run began in 2012 when the Dolphins captured the Western League title and won 20 games en route to the their first title in more than three decades. Blakis brought a change of clothes to the City finals just in case and it turned out to be a smart move as the Dolphins outscored Birmingham, 13-10. “It’s unbelievable that it happened so quickly,” he said after joining his players for a celebratory dip, which would soon become a team tradition. ‘These boys worked incredibly hard. For this to happen in our second year is absolutely amazing. Being a newer program didn’t bother us, but it meant we had to learn more in a shorter period of time. It also signals a shift in the balance of power for water polo from the Valley to the Western League.”
When Anderson piloted the program to its previous City title in 1978 the Dolphins still practiced and played at the YMCA pool in Temescal Gateway Park. Now with a pool on campus, the Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center, Blakis and his players had a chance to take it to another level.
Senior Anton Pronichenko, who scored a game-high six goals, said the banner in the gym was his motivation: “Every day I’d look up and see ‘1978 City champions’ and here we are in 2012 and I’m so excited.”
Junior Alex Feizbakhsh led the team in scoring with 82 goals.
The Dolphins began the following season as the favorites and they went on to repeat thanks to eight goals by senior hole setter Luka Kosanin in the finals, a decisive 11-6 triumph over El Camino Real in the rain at Contreras High. Palisades dropped only two of its 28 games.
Palisades made it three in a row in 2014 but it was far from easy. It took five goals and four steals by Zach Senator to hold off Birmingham 11-9 at East Valley High in North Hollywood. Goalie Blake Levine had 11 saves and Kian Lotfi played air-tight defense on James Gillis, the Patriots’ career goals leader. It was a satisfying end to an injury-plagued year in which the team had to replace its “Core Four” starters of 2013.
Senior Mitchell Kim earned the game ball after scoring eight goals as Palisades extended its streak with a 19-3 rout of Birmingham at Valley College in 2015. It remains the most lopsided result in finals history.
“I don’t know about me being the go-to guy—we have a lot of players who can score,” said Kim, who was lifted on his teammates’ shoulders afterwards. “This was my last high school game and it’s amazing that it ended like this. I was confident we’d win, but I’m surprised how much we won by.”
The Dolphins’ “Drive for Five” culminated in a 10-4 triumph over Granada Hills in 2016—a defensive contest that Palisades led by only one goal at halftime. Gabby Feizbakhsh scored twice in 20 seconds in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
The Dolphins equaled their 1970s mark with their sixth straight City title in 2017 but it was the tightest final yet—a 6-5 squeaker over Granada Hills. Senior Sammy Speiser lofted a pass to his younger brother Maximo for the game-winner with 5:26 remaining.
In 2018, Blakis’ squad not only won a school-record 30 games, it ousted Birmingham 13-5 in the City finals and went on to capture the Southern California Regional Division III championship at Ocean View High. Senior Theo Trask had a school single-season record 123 steals.
Experience was the key in last year’s final as Palisades outscored Cleveland 6-1 in the last quarter to win 16-9 and make it eight straight—all against West Valley League foes. Seniors Maximo Speiser (six goals), Oliver Grant (five) and Marc Pryor (four goals) led the way.