Palisades High Junior Maxine Eschger Has Immersed Herself in Aquatic Sports and Photography
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Back in February, Maxine Eschger and the Palisades High girls water polo team were on the brink of back-to-back City championships.
The most exciting finals matchup in section history played out like a Hollywood script, producing nine ties and seven lead changes before the Dolphins fell to Birmingham, 17-16. That loss stung for months, but with the help of a teammate Eschger has found a measure of redemption in the pool by winning an Award of Excellence from the National PTA for its 2019-20 “Look Within” Reflections Art Competition.
With her project titled “HER LIGHT,” Eschger is one of only three high school students across the country to receive an Excellence Award in the field of photography. Other disciplines for the national contest included film production, literature, visual arts, dance choreography and music composition.
“I found out about the competition through my photography teacher Mr. [Rick] Steil at Pali High,” Eschger said. “He’s familiar with it and entering the contest was a class assignment. I don’t remember a specific deadline but we submitted around October. In California, I know there were 30,000 applicants and I’m guessing around 100,000 nationwide, but I don’t know an exact number. I was so surprised to hear that I won because I got second place in the first round, which was just within Pali High. I assumed that would be the end of it and I’d probably not get selected to go farther than regionals.”
Eschger, a junior, first started taking photos in fifth grade upon finding her mom’s old Canon Rebel T3 camera and she’s been shooting ever since. She mostly takes portraits but also likes architecture photography. She has honed her skills in Steil’s AP Photography class after taking Advanced Photography with him last year.
“The project was part of an underwater photography series and I asked my friend [and water polo teammate Marieka Possman] to be the model in the series,” Eschger explained. “I thought we’d work well together since she’s also an artist and we’re both in tune with water. The inspiration behind mine was the photographer Toni Frissel’s underwater photos and my photos were a result of an idea I’ve been exploring about photographing people and how they move in space. By experimenting with light at different times of day, as well as with all different types of movement, I was able to come up with my first underwater series.”
Each of Eschger’s “passions” is difficult to master in its own right and she finds the contrast between them facinating.
“I think both are so different that it’s hard to correlate them,” she said. “I’d say that they’re both challenging, but in different ways. Although water polo is more physically demanding, they both require a lot of mental concentration. What I can say is that the feeling of getting a great photo and scoring a winning goal is definitely similar.”
Eschger scored plenty of goals for the Dolphins in the winter. She was one of the squad’s most improved players, tallying six goals against Monrovia in the third-place game of the Burbank Classic in November and scoring four times versus Western League archrival Venice in January. She was a scoring machine in the City playoffs, netting five goals in the opening round against Contreras, a team-high seven goals in a quarterfinal rout of El Camino Real and five more in a 16-10 semifinal victory over Cleveland.
“I think what I’ll remember most is the Mistletoe Tournament in Ventura County in December,” said Eschger, who lives in Mandeville Canyon. “We finished it with a [9-5] win against Thousand Oaks and the game felt like the most cohesively we had played so far. It was a great starting point for us and something to reference for motivation through the season.”
Eschger attended Kenter Canyon Elementary, then Paul Revere Middle School. She tried a variety of sports in elementary school, including soccer, basketball, and volleyball, and started swimming around the age of 9. She first tried water polo in seventh grade and has played it ever since. She also still swims and helped Palisades’ girls to their 10th consecutive City title and 13th in 14 years last May at John C. Argue Swim Stadium next to the LA Coliseum. Eschger placed seventh in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events and swam the third leg of Palisades’ runner-up 400-freestyle relay. The girls accumulated a whopping 600 points to nearly double the total of second-place Granada Hills.
That triumph was icing on the cake for Eschger, who earlier in her sophomore campaign played a crucial role in the Dolphins’ run to their first City girls water polo crown after suffering five losses in the finals—all to Eagle Rock.
“I actually think swimming sparked my interest for water polo because I’ve always loved to be in the water and playing team sports, so I loved how water polo combined both,” she said.
Unlike many her age, Eschger is not trying to discover what to do when her Pali High days are over. She already knows.
“My future goals are to play water polo in college and to major in Art and Art History,” she said.
As far as photography goes, it is far more than just her hobby. Eschger draws inspiration for her work from her classmates as well as some fashion photographers, like Richard Avedon.
“Being in Mr. Steil’s photo class has also made an impact on me as an artist with the critique from my classmates and instruction from Mr. Steil,” she said. “When it comes to water polo, I’ve always been inspired by the girls on my club and school teams who are older and more experienced than I am. I’ve learned how to become a better player by taking advice from them and watching how they play.”
In the summer of 2018, Eschger was a member of Westside Aquatics’ U16 girls unit that took 16th place in the Silver Classic Division at the USA National Junior Olympics in the Bay Area—a team that also featured Pali High teammates Leighanne Estabrook and Sydney Brouwer.
“Through water polo and photography I’ve learned certain perseverance skills that have defined me as a person,” Eschger said. “I’ve learned that when practice gets hard or when the photo I’m taking isn’t what I wanted, I have to keep going until I succeed, as cheesy as that may sound.”
Eschger has been immersing herself totally into her efforts to be the best shooter, both in the pool and behind the lens. She is one of only 12 California students to win a PTA Award this year in any category from all six mediums.
“To get a perfect shot I’d say it takes me only a few photos if I have the concept of what I want to do already planned out,” Eschger said. “If not it could take me dozens of attempts. For this competition I was only able to submit one photo from the series, which was about 10 all together. The best advice I’ve gotten in photography is probably to stay true to what I want to do and keep going with my own style. In the pool, the best advice I’ve received is to just keep fighting through the game even if you’re on the losing side. Even if the outcome of a game isn’t how you wanted it, there can always be a learning opportunity to improve in the future.”
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