La Jolla High has a “sandwich” water polo team this season: seven seniors and seven sophomores, wrapped around two juniors in the middle.
Jessica Newell and Shauna Franke, two of the veteran seniors unanimously elected captains by their teammates, are going to be looked to for a lot of leadership this year by fourth-year head coach Amy Jennings:
"We had some strong players last year [including Katy Koenig, a forceful leader] and Jess was kind of support to them. Now she’ll be more out front as a leader.”
Franke, starting in goal for the third straight year, will also play a crucial role. “Both are also looking at playing at the next level [in college], which adds to the motivation,” says Jennings.
Including in her rotation seniors Paige Olson, Stephanie Babcock, and Ava Kevorkian, and sophomores Lulu Hirschfield, Natalie DiMeo, and Stella Chopskie, among others, Jennings says there will be no drop-off in intensity when she sends substitutes in, a luxury she couldn’t afford last year. “I feel pretty confident to sub this year. I can sub three out on my bench and we can keep our pace,” she says.
A rundown of key players follows:
Shauna Franke, senior goalie: In a preseason scrimmage against Valhalla, the veteran gave up no goals playing the entire first half. She will be a key to the Vikings’ defense.
Jess Newell, senior utility player: Newell contributed a goal late in the third quarter in that 8-3 win, but she means much more to La Jolla on both offense and defense.
Natalie DiMeo, a returning sophomore, starting attack/driver: “She’s super strong physically,” says Jennings. “She has speed. She has the whole package. She is fearless. Natalie is a sponge for all she can learn.”
Lulu Hirschfield, a sophomore center: “She has power and aggressiveness. She has a lot of raw power. She doesn’t even know how strong she is.”
Ava Kevorkian, a senior attack: “She has a level of experience and dependability. She is kind of the glue keeping it together. She doesn’t make mistakes.”
Paige Olson, senior attack: “She brings anticipation. Having played the game so long, she anticipates the next move. In addition to being fast, she brings instinct. On the counterattack, she has that.”
Stephanie Babcock, returning senior two-meter guard: “She has to go head-to-head with the other team’s most physical player in the middle. She’s defending the Shaquille O’Neal. She has great awareness and agility. It’s not always who’s more physical, it’s agility. She has to spin. On top of that, she also has to play offense.”
Stella Chopskie, sophomore attack: “She’s fast and aggressive. I could easily see her filling in as the starting guard. She has the desire.”
Catalina Avchin, a junior up from junior varsity: “She’s fast, has the speed. She just needs more experience.”
Jenna Drobeck, a sophomore: “She’s such a good athlete. She’s new. To get better, she’ll have to play more. She takes it seriously. She studies it. She has speed, strength, smarts.”