Trio of La Cañada water polo teams look for growth

LA CAÑADA — Growth appears to be the operative word in regards to the city of La Cañada’s three girls’ water polo teams as the season nears its start.

At La Cañada High, the Spartans welcomed a new coach in former assistant Davey Brown, who replaced Kristen Dronberger.

“We’re going to have a whole new coaching strategy and I really think we can compete in league and finish second or third,” Brown said. “We’re trying to give South Pasadena a run for their money this year.”

Competitiveness was an issue for the Spartans last season, as the team finished with a 3-12 overall record and was fifth in the Rio Hondo League, off the pace of league champion South Pasadena (13-8, 8-0 in league).

While those numbers may not be too flattering, some figures that do have Brown optimistic are 12 and 26, which stand for the number of varsity players and total athletes within the program, respectively.

“Part of our problem is that our girls’ numbers have been down the last few years,” Brown said. “But with our age groups and the help of [boys’ water polo coach] Christian [Flores], we’re ready for a turnaround.”

The Spartans return three key starters in junior driver Miranda Mora, senior driver Lindsay Coss and senior two-meter attacker/defender Anastacia Menemenlis.

“Miranda is my star player who can shoot, drive, set and draw kick-outs. She’s coming off a shoulder injury and is at 80% now,” Brown said. “You look at Lindsay, she’s a Rose Bowl Aquatics swimmer and knows her way around the game.

“As for Anastasia, well let me just say she’s going to be annoying. She is a great defender and is going to bug the heck out of her girl until that player gets ejected.”

One up-and-comer to keep any eye out for is freshman Heather Connelly.

While La Cañada is on its third coach in three years, up the hill, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is enjoying stability for the first time in a while as coach Carlos Ponce for returns for year No. 2.

“I know the team went through a coaching change the last three years before I took over, so I wanted to put us in a different direction for once and stay,” Ponce said. “Last year, the girls simply got tired of losing and played very well.”

The Tologs enjoyed the most wins of any city team in finishing with a 12-14 record and a 4-6 mark in league, which was good for fourth in the strong Mission League.

“We went on a nice run last year and were really competitive,” Ponce said. “This year, we’re looking to move from just being competitive to reaching the playoffs.”

To do so, Flintridge Sacred Heart will need to either need bump league champion Harvard-Westlake, Louisville or Sherman Oaks Notre Dame out of the postseason picture.

That task appears difficult given the graduation of senior driver Hannah Walleck, a Mission League first-team selection who led her squad with 93 goals and 49 assists. Also gone is senior driver Anna Porter, a league second-teamer who tallied 63 goals.

The cupboard is far from bare, however, for Ponce, whose 10-player squad has three returning seniors, led by goalie Elizabeth Hinkley.

“What I like most about Elizabeth is that’s she a great leader in and out of the water,” Ponce said. “She has the ability to take us to the next level.”

Senior hole/set defender Devin Aubert returns and will be an asset to Hinkley as her 5-foot-11 frame will be tough to get around.

Sixteen of the total 21 players within the water polo program are sophomores or freshmen and Ponce believes that some will make contributions to varsity, including hole/set Mary Farley, two-meter defender Electra Williams and driver Madeline Dulcich.

As with La Cañada and Flintridge Sacred Heart, Flintridge Prep is also hoping to outproduce the 2012-2013 season.

All that would take, however, is a win, as the Rebels are poised to rebound from an 0-16 campaign last year.

“Our philosophy the last few years has been to build a foundation for this program,” Rebels Coach Ryan Goto said. “I think our situation is different than others because of the vast differences in experience. We have girls that know the game of water polo well and others who are just barely learning how to swim.”

Flintridge Prep will field 11 players on this year’s roster, nine of which are returners.

Winger Erin Dennis is expected to lead the way as the senior has earned her share of acclaim.

“She brings the type of leadership that we need out in the pool,” Goto said. “I’m really excited to have her back.”

Drivers Arin Phillips (senior) and Hayley Purvis (sophomore) are expected to carry the bulk of the offensive load, while sophomore Alex Tutwiler will join Dennis on the wings.

“I can sit here and talk about the playoffs or league titles, but I have to be fair to the girls and be realistic,” Goto said. “We have zero club players on this team. So, with that our goal is to grow and progress throughout the year. I still have expectations to be competitive, but growth is most important to me.”

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