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High School Male Athlete of the Week: Joey Palmblade is the wall for Costa Mesa water polo

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Senior goalkeeper Joey Palmblade of the Costa Mesa High boys’ water polo team made 315 saves last season.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Joey Palmblade turned 18 years old on Saturday, and the Costa Mesa High senior boys’ water polo goalkeeper spent much of it in the pool.

The Mustangs finished up play at the prestigious South Coast Tournament, finishing 30th in the 32-team tournament after splitting a pair of matches.

Palmblade said earlier in the week that there was nowhere he’d rather be than playing with his teammates on his big day, win or lose. He really can’t get enough of the sport.

Palmblade’s father James, who also played water polo goalkeeper as well as basketball guard before graduating from Costa Mesa in 1983, films each of Joey’s games from the stands. The two will often study it in Joey’s bedroom at home. Once his father goes to bed, Joey will stay up and watch the videos from his computer, sometimes in slow-motion.

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“He just instilled that you have to have a certain level of integrity to be an athlete who cares about his sport,” Joey Palmblade said. “To care about your sport, you have to have passion for it, and with that passion comes the integrity to work hard for it. I like to hold myself to a high standard. If I’m not meeting that standard, I don’t think I’m being the best I can for my team.”

The team at home also includes Joey’s older brother Jacob, 24. Jacob was born with a chromosomal condition called trisomy 9p, which affects his fine motor skills. Joey said he performs tasks like tying his brother’s shoes, or giving him a shower.

“I tuck him in at night, make him chocolate milk in the morning,” Joey Palmblade said. “I make sure he’s all right, and he makes sure I’m all right. It’s just like a normal brotherly relationship.”

It’s this kind of maturity that Palmblade, a three-year starter, brings between the pipes for Costa Mesa. It extends seemingly everywhere – from game day to the weight room to the leadership he provides as a team captain.

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Despite losing top scorers Caedmon Fisher and Teak Zachary to graduation, Palmblade and the Mustangs have goals this year of defending their Orange Coast League title and advancing perhaps further than last year’s CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoff quarterfinal appearance.

Nobody will work harder than the goalkeeper. Costa Mesa assistant coach Morgan Turner, who played the position at the University of Michigan, knows that to be true.

“Joey knows how to work himself hard,” Turner said. “It’s actually hard to find sets these days to make him struggle. When he’s left to his own devices, he will not take it easy. He will work his hardest, and make himself a set that comes from my repertoire.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of like a dream for a goalie coach. I very minimally have to explain things to him, because he knows my style of workouts so well and the way that I want him to play. When I have a new set, I know that he’ll be able to execute it and be able to push.”

Palmblade is the reason that the Mustangs are able to utilize a quick counterattack this year. His teammates need to have confidence that he will block the ball and make a good pass. He is able to communicate with Costa Mesa’s set guards, senior Nick Vargo and junior Xander Luckett.

Palmblade never made as many saves — 19 — as when Costa Mesa lost to Servite 10-8 at the Hank Vellekamp Tournament on Sept. 13. The Mustangs nearly upset the No. 5-ranked team in Division 3, though they did finish off the tournament with a 11-10 golden goal win over Ventura, ranked No. 9 in the division. Palmblade had 14 saves.

“He gets a lot of saves where you look at him and you’re like, ‘Wow, how did you do that?’” Costa Mesa coach Cody Serrano said. “How did he get all the way across the cage and get that save? He just does it. His drive is unreal. Just knowing that he’s back there, I think our team is getting more confident.”

Palmblade, who said he wants to play college water polo and called Long Beach State his dream school, also has his eye on the Mustangs’ individual single-season saves record. He had 321 saves as a sophomore and 315 as a junior. The single-season record is 325, set by James Rydjeski in 2014.

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“Seeing that record up there, that’s the reason why I do so much of this extra stuff, honestly,” Palmblade said. “I want that record. That’s been the challenge. That’s been what I’ve been shooting for the whole time. Ever since I started doing club as a 12U, I was like, ‘That’s a lot of blocks. I think I can do that one day.’ And I’m close. I really want it.”

It didn’t take an 18th birthday for Palmblade to realize the value of hard work. He also likes to throw ceramics in his free time.

“I’m willing to put in that extra work, watch the extra hour of video,” he said. “I’m more preparing myself, if I get the opportunity to go [NCAA] Division I. That’s basically what this is, preparation for the future. If I get to go, I’m going to have to be doing this all on my own, because I’m going to be all on my own in college. I have to be comfortable doing it for myself.”

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Joey Palmblade

Born: Sept. 21, 2001

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 6 feet 1

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Weight: 180 pounds

Sport: Water polo

Year: Senior

Coach: Cody Serrano

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: “Pulp Fiction”

Favorite athletic moment: Making a career-high 19 saves against Servite this season.

Week in review: Palmblade helped the Mustangs beat Sage Hill 17-7 in a nonleague match Sept. 10, then finish seventh in the Hank Vellekamp tournament. He made 14 saves in the seventh-place match, an 11-10 golden-goal victory over Division 3 opponent Ventura.

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