To the Bitter End

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Members of the Malibu girls water polo team smile after receiving gifts from the Marymount girls water polo team. Marymount donated clothes, gift cards and other useful items to Malibu fire victims on the squad.

The Malibu High girls water polo team started the 2018-19 campaign in winning form. The Sharks posted a 3-2 record in the Mistletoe Tournament in Ventura and were swimming toward piling up even more victories this season. 

“We were rolling,” Malibu head coach Hayden Goldberg said. 

Then, the Woolsey Fire ignited on Nov. 8. The blaze damaged or destroyed hundreds of houses and structures in Malibu and upended the lives of many in the community, including members of the high school water polo team. The families of five Sharks lost their homes to the wildfire, which also damaged the squad’s pool to a point that it was unusable for most of the three-month season, so the Sharks only had three home games and never had a consistent practice schedule or place to practice. 

Goldberg said the season, which ended last week, was a challenge. 

“The girls just didn’t get enough practice in to reach their highest potential, but they always went in with a 100 percent effort,” he said. “They gave 100 percent. I am super thankful because it would have been easy to give up. I’m very proud of these girls.” 

Because of the wildfire, Malibu couldn’t practice from mid-November to mid-December. The Sharks were able to practice in their home waters at times afterward but trained more at Pepperdine University or Agoura High when those pools were available. 

However, the squad was never able to get the right amount of practice needed, said senior Katie Gorak. 

“We weren’t able to get into a routine,” the 17-year-old said.

Gorak’s coach said the Sharks lost at least 50 percent of their practice time due to the damage caused by the Woolsey Fire, strong winds blowing ash and smoot into the pool, and rainy weather. 

“We would go practice for two days then we couldn’t be there, so we weren’t able to practice for a week,” Goldberg said. “Then, we would have a game. It was a very big challenge.”

The coach said the canceled practices caused the Sharks to miss training in shooting the ball, learning plays and swimming to stay in shape. 

The Sharks went winless in two tournaments after starting their season in winning fashion. However, they had a few victories, including a 15-1 win over Nordoff and 15-2 win over Cate during the stream of losses that loaded the back portion of the season. 

There were other bright moments as well. 

Senior Adina Berg said their first game in the Malibu pool, a Dec. 20 matchup against eventual Tri-Valley League champion Villanova Prep, was one. Although the Sharks lost the game in overtime by one point, Berg said the contest showed how well her team could play.

“It felt good because even though we didn’t have practices we were still keeping up with a team that was undefeated in the league,” she said. 

Gorak, whose house was destroyed during the Woolsey Fire, said a touching moment for her happened during the Dolphin Tournament at Palisades High, the first event the Sharks competed in after the Woolsey Fire. The host team gave Gorak and the other Malibu players who had lost their homes in the wildfire a gift bag of shirts, school materials, gift cards and other items.

Gorak said playing water polo with her teammates this season was a good outlet.

“I love the water polo season,” she said. “It’s something I look forward to. I love the team.”

Goldberg focused on being positive with the team despite the adversity they were facing. 

“I’ve got some strong girls because no matter they stayed tough through everything,” he said. “This was a crisis that happened and at the end of the day the girls that went through it are going to be stronger than anyone I have ever coached.” 

The squad’s seniors got somewhat frustrated because this was their final year of high school water polo. One of them, Lauren Maichoss, noted that the team’s members did display a lot of love toward each other though.

“We defiantly showed team strength,” she said. “When we had practice, everyone was there consistently.”

Gorak added, “We are all really good friends outside of the pool. Friendship motivated us to go to practice and go to games even though had little practice time.” 

Goldberg said the lack of practice stopped the Sharks from reaching their full potential. 

Maichoss said if Malibu was able to practice more the group would have had a lot more wins than losses.

“I think we would have won league and qualified for CIF,” she said.