2016-12-16 / Sports

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GIRLS’ WATER POLO /// Coastal Canyon League Highlander girls’ water polo team has won back-to-back league, section titles
By Jonathan Andrade

POINT BREAK—Dara Bleiberg shoots the ball during Royal High girls’ water polo practice on Dec. 14. 
Photos by ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers POINT BREAK—Dara Bleiberg shoots the ball during Royal High girls’ water polo practice on Dec. 14. Photos by ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers Royal High’s girls’ water polo team has hogged the Coastal Canyon League hardware the past two seasons.

The Highlanders claimed their second straight league title before making a run to secure its second consecutive CIF-Southern Section Division 4 title last winter.

“ I expect Royal to win league,” Moorpark head coach Peter Daland said. “They’re two-time defending CIF champions. That’ll be a tough battle. They lost some seniors, so they’re not as strong as they’ve been, but they’re still going to be the premier team in our league.”

Moorpark and Camarillo, which shared second place in consecutive seasons, have locked horns for postseason play-in games the past two years. While the Scorpions won both showdowns, the Musketeers want to earn a playoff berth.

EXCELLENT—Royal goalie Shaeleigh Russell makes a save at practice. EXCELLENT—Royal goalie Shaeleigh Russell makes a save at practice. Calabasas hopes to take league foes by surprise this year.


Royal graduated a horde of marquee players who helped the Highlanders secure back-to-back section titles.

“Some of those players from last year that were role players now have to step into those key roles,” head coach Devin Hurst said.

There’s no need to panic. The Highlanders still flaunt a talented lineup.

Dara Bleiberg, a senior attacker, helps get things going on offense.

“She’s stepping into the leadership role of our team,” the coach said of Bleiberg. “She’s kind of our workhorse. She sets up plays.”

Sydney Hurst, a junior center and the coach’s daughter, started this season with 16 goals. Her ability to draw ejections helps Royal get into favorable situations.

ADVENTURE—Sydney Hurst is a junior center for the Highlanders. ADVENTURE—Sydney Hurst is a junior center for the Highlanders. Natalie Espinoza, a backup last year, is the starting senior 2-meter defender.

Shaeleigh Russell, a junior, is a returning starter at goalie. She’s racked up 50 saves in six games this season.

While the coach said the team’s had issues getting back on defense during counterattacks, the Highlanders (6-3 overall) also take advantage of holes in opponents’ defenses.

“We’ve done a nice job on our counterattacks, being able to set up our transition game into our front court sets pretty quickly,” Hurst said. “We’re able to run a quality offense.”


Moorpark head coach Peter Daland said he hopes this is the year the Musketeers can finally get into the postseason. The team seeks its first playoff berth in program history.

“We’re going to be right there battling with Camarillo again,” Daland said. “I expect it will be a similar situation this year.”

The Musketeers (4-3) travel to face Malibu at 3 p.m. today.

Chloe Daland, the coach’s daughter, is a senior utility and the team’s top returner. She led the squad in steals and was second on team in goals last winter.

Ray Lynn Lipsky, a driver who shoots lefty, and Brooke Settem, a feisty 2-meter defender, are talented sophomores who boost the lineup.

McKenzie Van Wig, a junior driver, bolsters the offense.

Shayle Barrus, a junior transfer from Thousand Oaks, starts at goalie.

“We have a lot of new players that we have filling the spots of our graduated seniors from last year,” the coach said. “I think they’re going to have to learn to rely on each other as a team.”


Former Westlake High standout Scarlett Lund-Sidi, a 2013 graduate and current Ventura College student, has taken over the reins at Camarillo.

“It’s hard being a new coach sometimes because you have to convince the kids into buying into a new system,” she said. “I’m really lucky. This group of girls I’m coaching has really worked hard to buy into the system.”

Lund-Sidi said the team’s passing and defense have already improved this season.

Emily Macasieb, a junior hole set, is Camarillo’s top offensive threat.

“When she’s on her game she has some beautiful shots,” the coach said of Macasieb. “I’m so lucky to have a girl with such great technique. It makes coaching so much easier.”

Drew Reyes, a junior utility, creates opportunities for the Scorpion offense.

“She’s taken what I taught her and made it her own,” Lund-Sidi said of Reyes. “She’s a better player every day.”

The Scorpions (3-7 overall) rely on Maddy Hood, a sophomore 2-meter defender, in front of junior goalie Elyse Richardson in the cage.

Lund-Sidi said she’s looking forward to facing league foes.

“All the other coaches have been coaching for a while now,” she said. “I’m interested to see how we’ll play against coaches that I know are great coaches.”


The Coyotes are in the hunt for some Coastal Canyon victories.

Second-year head coach Greg Poppen said his team has improved since its winless run through league last winter.

“I’m really optimistic about the season,” Poppen said. “There’s a definite desire to win this season.”

Calabasas started the season 5-4, including a close loss to Notre Dame.

Calabasas plays host to Louisville on Jan. 5. The Coyotes kick off league action at 3:15 p.m. Jan. 9 at Moorpark.

Twin sisters Natalie and Erica Muehring, both senior 2-meter defenders, welcomed younger sibling Juliet Muehring, a freshman, to the varsity lineup.

Tori Wyshak, a junior driver, is a skillful returner with a solid outside shot. Freshman Shahd Zaaza is a talented newcomer. Juniors Michelle Piesman and Lily Hattar compete for minutes at goalie.

“I feel 100 percent strong that we’ll definitely win some league games,” Poppen said. “I could picture us being one of the top two.

“After seeing how we played against Notre Dame this early in the season, I can see us, by the end of the season, being able to give Royal a strong game.”

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