La Jolla was ready to win water polo crown

Into the final game of her senior year, La Jolla’s Lulu Hirshfield entered most ready for the Southern California Regional Division II girls water polo final.

Hirshfield scored on the game’s first possession and Jenna Drobeck converted on the team’s next as the fifth-seeded Vikings proceeded on their way to a 16-7 victory over El Segundo in their first SoCal final at La Jolla on Saturday.

“We’re just ready for this,” said Hirshfield, who finished with a game-high six goals. “We waited so long for it, and we trained so hard, and we had the best team chemistry.”

After advancing with two one-goal victories, La Jolla (25-5) never trailed against No. 7 El Segundo (28-5) in the prep finale for nine Viking seniors.

“I’m so ecstatic right now,” said Hirshfield, bound for the University of Michigan. “We set a goal this year to be in a championship game, and we won. These girls are amazing. It’s something I wouldn’t give up.”

Senior goalie Roxy Hazuka made 16 saves to help turn back the Eagles, who beat La Costa Canyon and Carlsbad en route to the final.

“This means everything,” said Hazuka, headed to Brown University. “These postseason games have been so tough for us, but it’s all been bringing us together, and it’s been such a ride. It’s incredible.”

Senior Natalie Dimeo, a future UC San Diego player, recorded five goals for the Vikings while classmate Stella Chopskie, bound for Sienna, added three.

In the second quarter, Hirshfield converted a strong backhand shot and Dimeo followed with another goal 30 seconds later to increase the Vikings’ lead to 6-3 with 4:36 left. They later built a 10-4 lead three minutes into the third quarter with four straight goals overlapping the middle periods.

To the start the postseason, the Vikings lost in the San Diego Section Open Division quarterfinals to Carlsbad. But they rebounded to claim a SoCal berth with two consolation wins.

“We use the word ‘legacy’ with the girls,” said La Jolla coach Amy Jennings, whose squad included eight sophomore and freshmen combined but no juniors. “Especially, for our senior group, this is it. This moment showed the (underclassmen). Our seniors had to give everything they had leadership-wise.”

La Jolla came off a 9-8 overtime victory at No. 1 Yucaipa. Hirshfield and Chopskie scored the first two goals in the two required OT periods. Earlier, the Vikings topped Huntington Beach Edison 7-6.

“It’s been our best season for team connection,” said Jennings, in her sixth season at the school. Her assistants include boys coach Tom Atwell.

The Vikings’ only other SoCal appearance came in 2019 when they lost in the quarterfinals. The tournament started in 2018 but was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

La Jolla senior Ari Stone added to her family water polo legacy with this title after her twin brother, Max, contributed to an Open Division section championship for the Bishop’s boys a year ago.

Their older brother, Adam, competed for the Scripps Ranch team that won the 1999 Division I boys crown. Coaching that squad was Atwell.

Thien is a freelance writer.