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Call Them the Fab Four of Santa Monica : Colleges: Corsair water polo program gets an unexpected a boost from four women.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wesley Rogers did not know what to expect when he rejoined the Santa Monica College water polo team this season.

After sitting out a year, Rogers knew he would have new teammates, but he was surprised when he found out that four would be women.

“I had never played with any females before,” said Rogers, who played water polo at Culver City High. “I didn’t know what it would be like to play on the same team with them.”

At first, Lara Forman, Stacey Friedman, Marianne Kelly and Monica Lizarraga were greeted with skepticism.

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“The guys did not know how to treat them at first,” Coach Stu Blumkin said. “They didn’t know whether to be aggressive or not. But, it didn’t take them long to learn.”

That is because the women can play. Friedman, Kelly and Lizarraga are college graduates who have returned to take courses at the community college level and play water polo.

They are also three of the most experienced players on the team, having played years for all-women club teams.

“We can have all three of them start in a given game,” said Blumkin, 43, who has coached the water polo team since 1979 and was recently named the men’s swimming coach. “They usually play the majority of the game.”

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Forman, 19, is the youngest of the women and is in her first year playing water polo. She began playing the sport after taking a swimming class with Blumkin.

“I had basically given up my swimming career when he talked me out for the team,” said Forman, who was a distance swimmer for the Corsairs. “Then I took a water polo class for the fun of it and that is when he talked me into trying that to help with my swimming.”

So far, Forman is glad that she did.

“It is a change of pace from swimming in that it is a game that everybody is involved,” she said. “Learning the game has been the most difficult thing, but I like it. It is real fast and physical.”

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When Forman first told her family and friends that she was going to join the water polo team, they were surprised.

“They all asked, ‘Is it an all-women team?’ ” Forman said. “Then I tell that it isn’t and they thought that I was crazy. But since then, everyone has been real supportive.”

Forman’s male teammates and opponents treated her differently at first, but once they saw that she and the other women could play, that all changed.

“I’ve been punched in the face and kicked before,” Forman said. “But at first they were afraid to touch us at all.”

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Rogers said that the women have pushed the other players ever since the first day of practice.

“They have made us step up our level of play because if you want to play in front of them you had to perform,” Rogers said. “They’ve added to the team with their experience and the support they give us.”

Blumkin said that the women who arrive at Santa Monica are better coached than the players he gets out of high school.

“Fundamentally, they are a lot better. . . . It is not the strongest or fastest who are the best players; it is the ones who can outthink their opponents,” he said.

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Santa Monica has struggled early this season with a 2-5 record, but Blumkin is pleased with the Corsairs’ progress.

He credits the four women for helping with the transition of putting in a new offense.

“Their knowledge and experience has made it better for us in that they are like a coach in water,” Blumkin said. “They have helped us take our game to a higher level.”

The Corsairs have stayed close in most of their games this season, but have struggled to score. Blumkin believes it is only a matter of time before goals come easier.

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“We are doing everything right but we are not making the most of our chances to score,” he said. “This season is the first time that we are using an offense that is geared to create an open person to score.”

With assistants John Anderson, who played for the Canadian Olympic team in 1984, and Dave Kastigan, a former Santa Monica College standout, Blumkin said he is having fun.

“I might have had teams that have had more success, but this is a great team to be around,” he said. “Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and I think if we can keep it up, we’ll do fine by the end of the season.”

Santa Monica will play in a round-robin tournament at Long Beach City College Saturday. The other teams entered are Long Beach, Saddleback and Orange Coast College.

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