For the second year in a row, there will be a new face coaching the La Cañada High girls' water polo team in 2011.
Kristen Dronberger, who is La Cañada's new coach after spending the fall coaching the school's junior varsity and frosh/soph boys' water polo teams, is determined to see her team take some strides this season.
"It's difficult for any program to bounce through coaches," said Dronberger, who was officially hired for her first head-coaching job a few weeks ago. "I am looking forward to improving the program dramatically and getting some CIF and league titles in the future."
The Spartans struggled last year, posting an 8-19, 3-5 in Rio Hondo League, record. La Cañada earned a CIF Southern Section Division III wild-card playoff berth with a third-place finish in league and were defeated by Charter Oak, 20-3, in the wild-card round.
Cracking the top-two teams in Rio Hondo League will be tough this year, as South Pasadena and San Marino enter this season ranked No. 5 and 10, respectively, in the Division III polls.
"Every team's goal is to finish higher in league than last year," Dronberger said. "We are trying for second or first. [South Pasadena] has been the top [in league] and they have a good program, but we'd like to give them a run for their money this year."
La Cañada has the challenge of improving without the services of its go-to scorer last year, Rita Neat. Neat scored 100 goals and assisted on 38 to earn all-league and area honors last year. It's all hands on deck for the Spartans without Neat.
"All of our girls are definitely going to need to step up and be able to perform," Dronberger said.
There are still some things up in the air, though.
"Right now, there are no set offensive positions, we are weighing our options," Dronberger said. "We have a few outside threats and some girls that can play at the two meter. They just need to be fine tuned."
Dronberger is stressing defense this season with a back-to-fundamentals approach.
"Regardless of what level you play, every season starts with fundamentals," Dronberger said. "You lose information over the offseason, so I always go to the building blocks of fundamentals. You get those down and you can build from there. There is always room for improvement with the little things."
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Flintridge Prep also have new coaches on board.
Andrea Artukovich will begin her head coaching job at Flintridge Sacred Heart, which didn't win a match last season. She comes to the Tologs with impeccable credentials, having starred at Long Beach Wilson before helping Golden West College win the 2009 state championship in women's water polo.
Artukovich also played overseas in 2010 for Mlabost, a Croatian club team.
"It's going to be a fun season," Artukovich said. "I just want them to stay calm and do the best they can.
"I just want to see them try to get better."
Flintridge Sacred Heart will be led by senior driver Eva Dulcich, junior drivers Hannah Walleck and Kelsey Gorman and sophomore driver Elizabeth Hinckley.
Flintridge Prep will hand the coaching responsibilities to Ryan Goto. The Rebels won only one match last season.
It will have several returners, including senior driver Suzanna Tan, who was named to the All-Area second team last season. Tan will be joined by senior driver Katrina Boyd and sophomore hole/set Erin Dennis.
Finding a new cast of players to surround the talents of Tan, Boyd and Dennis will be the top priority for Goto.
"We are expecting a huge improvement," Goto said. "We have a lot of new people, some who are new to the sport.
"So, we are going to have to look up to the returners to help guide us."