When the Malibu High Sharks girls water polo team hopped into the pool for their match against Oxnard at the beginning of the season last November, they were squad of mostly inexperienced players.
Only three of the players were on the team that advanced to the second round of the CIF playoffs last year, so the Sharks were a bit unsure of themselves. Additionally, they were a bit undermanned since they only had seven players available. Despite its nerves and inability to sub players in and out of the competition for a breather, Malibu snatched a 10-9 victory.
Charlie Flores, Malibu’s senior goalkeeper and one of the experienced players, said the win revealed the Sharks’ potential.
“We were able to go out and win together,” stated Flores, who had at least 18 blocks in the game. “We were able to persevere through that fear. It was quite exhausting and difficult.”
Malibu coach Hayden Goldberg called the win over Oxnard, whom Malibu had struggled against in the past, an outstanding performance.
“To start off with adversity and overcome adversity at the beginning was great,” he said.
The Sharks were able to do that and bit more all throughout their 2022-23 campaign. The squad finished second in the Tri-Valley league and qualified for the CIF playoffs. Malibu was downed by Palos Verdes 9-3 in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section 2023 Girls Water Polo Championships in Division 4 on Feb. 7.
This season, junior defender Stevie Sturges said, was the best water polo season she has ever had in her six years playing the sport.
“Comparing our first game of the season to our last, we were better swimming-wise, knowledge of the game-wise, and we bonded as a team,” she said. “At the beginning of the season, we were decently bonded, but by the end of the season, we were each other’s best friends.”
Malibu’s season featured highs such as a second win over Oxnard and lows such as player injuries, but Goldberg said the players, many who were first-year players recruited from the Malibu swim team, pushed to play their best throughout.
One notable moment was Malibu’s victory over Moorpark on Dec. 3. The Sharks were down 5-2 at halftime, but outscored Moorpark 7-2 in the second half to win the contest 9-7. Utility player Tallula Murphy, a first season water polo player, had 5 goals in the contest.
Flores explained that in that victory, the Sharks found their rhythm.
“It was a really big comeback,” she said. “We were able to step up and understand each other’s body language and signals in the pool.”
Goldberg said leadership from Flores and senior Anita Lopez Vida, an outside shooter, was a major component to Malibu’s success.
“They kept the brand-new girls engaged, were on time, and were the first ones in the water at practice,” he said. “The seniors [were] everything in and out of the pool you would want from team leaders.”
Flores and Lopez Vida were celebrated before Malibu’s Senior Night triumph on Jan. 26, a 15-8 win over Foothill Tech. Goldberg said Flores, whom he also coached in youth volleyball, is one of best goalkeepers in the area. She had 20 blocks against Villanova Prep this season.
“She is that security blanket that is going to be very difficult to replace,” Goldberg said. “Its been a blessing for her to be a part of Malibu and to have coached her all these years.”
The coach said Lopez Vida, who was recruited to the team as a sophomore because of her strong swimming prowess, is a ball of positive energy. Lopez Vida had 5 goals and 5 steals on Senior Night.
“She is also left-handed, which is a huge thing in our sport,” Goldberg said. “It all fell into place. She is a great person.”
Goldberg was dazzled by his team this season because they defeated or were competitive against teams that had more experienced and older players.
“I have been impressed with all the girls,” he said.
Sturges said Malibu improved throughout their campaign.
“At the beginning, some players were unsure of coming into a game that they didn’t have any knowledge of,” she said. “They were nervous, but once they played a few games, I felt like they had always been water polo players.”