By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
What a difference a year makes. When Palisades High’s boys water polo team played in the inaugural Southern California Regionals last fall it came in with zero expectations. This season, however, the mindset was not simply to show up, but to win.
“Last year we were playing the best team in the nation [Santa Ana Mater Dei] so we knew we weren’t going to win,” said Pali High captain Theo Trask, who set a school single-season record with 123 steals. “This year it was all about keeping the intensity up. We knew what we had to do. We knew we had to go all the way.”
The Dolphins did just that, winning three games in two days, culminating in Saturday’s 12-5 victory over California of Whittier, to capture the Division III regional championship—another first for a program fresh off winning an unprecedented seventh straight City Section title.
“This is the best because it elevates us to another level,” Coach Adam Blakis said after diving into the pool at Ocean View High to celebrate with his players. “When the draw came out I realized we had a really good shot at this and our boys were on point all during practice. The level is much higher than what we’re used to in City but we didn’t slow down at all.”
Palisades (30-4) was seeded No. 2 in the eight-team bracket and opened the tournament Friday with a 15-5 win versus LA Cathedral. On Saturday morning the Dolphins got past Valley View from Moreno Valley 13-10 in the semifinals to set up a finals showdown against top-seeded California, the Southern Section Division 5 champion.
Oliver Grant scored 20 seconds into the game, but Jesus Padilla answered for the Condors just 12 seconds later. Grant broke the tie midway through the first quarter, Zach Wunder made it 3-1 less than one minute later and the Dolphins were in control the rest of the way.
“We’re all brothers—we do almost everything together,” said Matt Garcia, who rattled a shot in off the crossbar as the third-quarter clock expired.
Entering the fourth quarter with a five-goal lead, the Dolphins ended all hope California had of a comeback on goals by Wunder, Luis Urias and Marc Pryor.
“This is the best team I’ve played on,” said Wunder, who tallied a team-best 58 goals in 30 games played this season. “Sure, we bicker and fight sometimes but we get over it quickly and when we’re in the pool it’s all business.”
Urias, who had two goals in the final and finished the season with 49, thinks chemistry was the key: “We’ve been together since we were freshmen and in club. We have more depth than ever.”