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High School Female Athlete of the Week: Lily Ensley is Marina’s goal-getter in pool

Lily Ensley scored 16 goals in leading Marina to the Westminster Tournament championship, the program's second straight tournament title.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Marina High is emerging as a force of sorts in girls’ water polo this season after some very difficult and disheartening campaigns, and the face of this new breed is a freshman goal-getter who has been nearly unstoppable the past few weeks as the Vikings have rolled to championships in successive tournaments.

Lily Ensley is the attacking centerpiece to Tamara Towgood’s third team as Marina head coach, with team-bests in goals (38) and assists (19). The Vikings — 12-40 the past two seasons — are off to a 12-4 start and a No. 10 ranking in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 poll after last week’s triumph at the Westminster Tournament.

Ensley’s got size, strength, speed, an unerring sense around the cage, gargantuan work ethic and a vibrant personality that rallies those around her and helps to bring out the best in everyone.

“[It’s] her attitude,” Towgood said. “She’s a go-getter. Anytime she’s in the pool, she’s working her hardest. Every single time. And then she’s contagious — contagious to the team, contagious to me — she just, like, goes for it 100% every single day. Every single game, she’s super-positive and ready to go all the time.”

That’s given her an advantage in the pool — she scored 16 goals in four Westminster Tournament games, three in the 13-5 rout over Laguna Hills in the final on Dec. 14 — and Marina, with considerable contributions from every corner, has won six straight games and 11 of its last 12.

“I know that if it wasn’t for my team, I wouldn’t have been able to score any of those goals,” Ensley said. “Since I’ve come on this team, the team chemistry boosts my confidence, and I’m able to be confident for my team.

“This is the only team I’ve had that actually has chemistry on it. I really notice the difference. How easy it is to communicate without having to necessarily talk. It’s really cool how we just click.”

Marina freshman Lily Ensley has scored 38 goals and assisted on 19 others this season.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Towgood is overjoyed. Her first two teams were shy on dedication and senior leadership and — with nearly no club players on the rosters — there wasn’t talent to mitigate that. This season’s group is something else. The top returning players are leaders, and Ensley and fellow freshman Taylor Lambert, both with strong club pedigree, have done a lot to boost the Vikings’ level of play.

It took Marina a moment or two to adjust to Ensley — she “ruffled a few feathers” at first, Towgood said, “just because she’s a big, outgoing personality” — but once the Vikings understood what she was about, she became a rallying point, in and out of the pool.

“Everyone let me in with open arms, and it was really easy for me to fit in,” said Ensley, whose cousin, Lana Kardos, a sophomore, has scored 16 goals. “I’m really confident in my play and stuff, and they make it easy for me to be more confident.”

Ensley began playing water polo as a sixth-grader at Huntington Beach Water Polo Club, where she was a goalkeeper. A broken ankle slowed her development the following year, and she became frustrated in the cage last year while playing for OC Riptide Aquatics Club and decided to become a field player.

She moved back to HBWPC about six months ago, and saw her first time as a center during Marina’s summer preparations. Her potential was unquestionable, Towgood said, and she had immense drive.

“Lily was going to be an impactful player,” Towgood said. “She had it in her mind and her goals that she was going to be instrumental, and she wanted to make the varsity team.”

Ensley repeatedly asked Towgood, from the start of summer until the rosters were made official in November, where she stood.

“We pranked her a little,” Towgood said. “She kept asking, ‘What team am I on?’ and she was panicking she wasn’t going to be on varsity, and it was so hilarious, because it’s, like, ‘Are you joking? Of course, you’re going to be on varsity.’”

The day they announced rosters, Ensley was told she’d be on the frosh-soph team.

“She’s looking at me with these panicked eyes,” Towgood said. “It was hilarious.”

Ensley, who plays a variety of positions, scored her first two goals in a 17-2 win over Pico Rivera El Rancho, then two more in a 17-6 loss to Downey, the No. 8 team in Division 4. She found a groove at the Saddleback Tournament, hitting the cage 12 times — including the sudden-death goal to beat Sonora in the quarterfinals and three in the 6-2 championship victory over El Modena on Dec. 7 — and then went off a week later at Westminster. She had seven goals against the host Lions, five against Long Beach Jordan, the assist on the overtime winner against Buena Park in the semifinals, and then the trio against Laguna Hills.

Ensley is 5-foot-8 but seems bigger — Towgood estimated her height at 5-10 or 5-11; “I wish,” Ensley says — and plays with uncommon aggression and precision. She, along with senior Makenna Reynolds, sets the standard in the weight room, and her time as a goalie have provided greater awareness and a harder shot.

Lambert, her close friend from HBWPC and Marina’s No. 2 scorer with 25 goals, also started as a goalie.

“We have strength in our arm, because we’d have to throw so far,” Ensley said. “Now that we’re in the field, we can throw far and hard, and that is a huge advantage when shooting.”

Marina’s aim is to reach the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time in five years, and “it looks like it could be a definite possibility, especially now, with how we’re doing.” They must finish in the top two in the Wave League — Huntington Beach and Edison are the top teams to challenge — to claim an automatic berth.

“It would mean so much to me and the entire team,” Ensley said. “I know Coach Tamara would probably freak out of happiness. To make it, we all have to work very hard, which I think we’re doing a great job of. Out work ethic would play a huge part in us getting to CIF.

“I think it would be absolutely phenomenal if we were able to make it.”

With Lily Ensley, Marina, which went 12-40 the last two seasons, is off to a 12-4 start this season.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Lily Ensley

Born: July 15, 2005

Hometown: Huntington Beach

Height: 5 feet 8

Sport: Water Polo

Year: Freshman

Coach: Tamara Towgood

Favorite food: Chicken rolls

Favorite movie: None

Favorite athletic moment: Scoring the winning goal, from a give-and-go with Taylor Lambert after sprinting toward the cage, to beat Sonora 10-9 in overtime on Dec. 6 in the Vikings’ first Saddleback Tournament game after losing the sprint for the ball to start the extra period. “Everyone went wild, and it was such an amazing experience,” she said.

Week in review: Ensley scored 16 goals, including three in a 13-5 title-game victory over Laguna Hills, to lead Marina to the Westminster Tournament championship on Dec. 14, the Vikings’ second tournament triumph of the season. She also assisted Rianne Gear’s winner in the second sudden-death overtime period to beat Buena Park 8-7 in the semifinals.

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