Peninsula is now on the radar

Peninsula is now on the radar

Mike Mitchell DAILY BREEZE

WATER POLO/S3Last season, the Peninsula girls water polo team won its league and advanced to the CIF Division II final.

And the Panthers did it with a lot of seniors.

Those seniors, including Daily Breeze Player of the Year Natalie Kim, are gone. But Peninsula is not forgotten.

With a strong group of returning players, the Panthers are again poised to make a strong run.

“Our offense could be really awesome, and I really like us to be on top of the defense,” Peninsula coach Mitch Yamamoto said.

“You need a good defense to set up the offense and feed the fast break.

“We will be a six-person counter-attacking team. Most teams are two or four, but we have six who can take off and score.”

Peninsula is currently ranked No. 3 in the CIF Division II poll, behind defending CIF champion Corona del Mar and No. 2 Laguna Beach.

Yamamoto prefers the underdog role, but he doesn’t mind the recognition.

“If we really play to out best, then we can return. But if we slip, we may not win the Bay League,” Yamamoto said. “In a way, I think it’s up for grabs.”

The team has a pair of 2-meter players who can score in seniors Kim Nelson and Nicole Santarosa.

But the focal point of the offense is junior driver Tekla Beckmann, a second-team All-CIF selection.

Beckmann said the team may have surprised some last year, but that the Panthers are no longer a secret.

“I don’t think any of the Orange County schools expected a Bay League team to go as far as we did,” said Beckmann, whose brother Zach was a Daily Breeze Player of the Year who helped Princeton reach this year’s NCAA Championships.

“But those teams are now looking for us. There’s a higher standard.”

Junior Kelsey O’Donnell started several games last year and returns to provide valuable experience.

Although the defense took a hit with the loss of Kim, Yamamoto expressed confidence in this year’s group.

Senior Alex Garreton has played behind Kim for three years and is ready to take upon a bigger load.

“Natalie was a big role model for me, and she taught me how to be a leader and a starter,” Garreton said. “People have been pretty supportive about me taking a bigger role after somebody so talented.”

Junior Suzanne Bunke is also starting. Freshman Danielle Kim and senior Ariella Walker will split time at 2-meter defender.

Also in the Bay League …

* Mira Costa: Coach Jon Reichardt said the Mustangs have enough seniors with experience to beat Peninsula, but just one returning starter in driver Lauren Briskin. Seniors Taylor Owens, Amanda Flores, Jenna Meistrell and Hailey Hollander will all have many scoring opportunities. The Mustangs will also have Courtney Mono and Anne Brady share goalkeeping duties.

* Palos Verdes: The co-Ocean League champs (along with Torrance) have a young team. With no seniors, competing with Peninsula and Mira Costa will prove difficult. But a battle for third with Redondo and Torrance is likely. The biggest change for Palos Verdes is in goal, where freshman goalkeeper Rachel Robinson already has years of experience. Sophomore 2-meter setter Jenna Carmack is a force in the center of the pool, although she has missed some time during the summer to heal some injuries. She should provide a boost to Palos Verdes. Junior Kristen Najarian is a three-year starter, and along with junior Stephanie Popp, is a first team Ocean-League selection. Juniors Julia Maricich and Michele Gwinn are strong defensive players. Megumi Kato adds a scoring punch.

* Redondo: Coach Andrea Koze likes the change to the double-round league schedule and thinks the Sea Hawks could benefit. Redondo returns four senior starters and is experienced enough to make a playoff run. Senior 2-meter setter Whitney Haroldson was a Daily Breeze All-Area selection. Senior field player Aja Schmutz is being moved from goalkeeper. Koze is also looking to senior drivers Hillary Benzell, Beth Hall and Jessica Somohano to lead the team.

* Torrance: Coach Scott Peppard said Torrance will field three teams, which means the future is bright. And the Tartars, the defending co-Ocean League champs, will battle for third place behind the shooting of senior 2-meter setter Samantha Jett and senior goalkeeper Carleigh McDonald. The goal for Torrance is consistency, since a different player seems to lead the team every match. Putting the pieces together at the right time could result in a strong league finish. Sophomore Kirsten Welch, senior 2-meter setter/driver Laurel Thackery and senior driver Elyse Mathis will all contribute. Peppard is also high on the play of senior field players Lauren Christenson and Julia Drishler.

In the Ocean League …

* El Segundo: Coach Scott Garinger said the Eagles watched the boys’ run to the CIF final and are ready to build upon it. The team has 12 seniors, but its best player is sophomore Coral Kemp, who plays and scores from virtually anywhere in the pool. Senior goalkeeper Markayla Quane could emerge as one of the best in CIF Division VI. Senior driver Jeanette Gant is one of the fastest swimmers in the division. Senior 2-meter defender Danielle Clemmer and senior driver Caitlyn Heck will also be major contributors along with junior 2-meter setter Danielle Sanford. Junior Jillian Berry will be on of the top contributors off the bench. “We have a couple of freshman who could start, too,” Garinger said. “It’s good to have so many talented players.”

* Santa Monica: Santa Monica is a major threat to El Segundo, since the Vikings have won a league title eight of the last nine years under Coach Matt Flanders. Santa Monica has strong players in senior 2-meter setter Melissa Mendoza, senior driver Nila Ward, junior driver Allison Born and junior 2-meter setter Irma Hernandez.

* Milken: Milken has a lack of players and a lack of experience, but a lot of enthusiasm under Coach Niall Skehen. Seniors Emily Rubenstein (2-meter setter) and Kirsten Brill (utility) will lead the team.

In the Prep League …

* Chadwick: Coach Bryan Weaver has a young team after graduating eight seniors last year. Noe Steadley, who was a part-time goalkeeper last season, will play 2-meter offense for the Dolphins. Junior Elia Kern was a second-team All-Prep League selection. Weaver said the team to beat in the Prep League is Westridge, although making the playoffs would be a highlight.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2004

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