After a one-year hiatus, Palmetto water polo is back.
Chase Vaughan, who led Palmetto to a GMAC title as a senior in 2006, has returned to his alma mater as a first-time high school head coach.
Vaughan, 27, is not without experience. He has coached the club teams at FIU and the University of Miami and also has helped his mother, Gulliver coach Carroll Vaughan, run the Riptides program.
Chase Vaughan, who said Palmetto didn’t have a team last year because of budget issues and the lack of a coach, has a specific goal for the Panthers this season.
“I would like to win the GMAC title for both [boys and girls],” said Vaughan, who also served as an assistant at Gulliver the past five years, helping the Raiders win three state titles — with the boys in 2012 and ’14, and the girls in ’13.
The Panthers have enlisted 20 boys and 15 girls to try to accomplish their GMAC goal, but the quest got tougher when a pump broke, making the pool at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus inoperable. In addition, the University of Miami was re-doing its pool, and Tamiami’s was down for repairs.
Water polo teams across the state were able to start practice on Jan. 18. But that was not possible at Palmetto, which needed the pool time more than anyone.
“We’re three weeks behind everyone else,” Vaughan said.
Things went from bad to worse on Tuesday, when Palmetto’s supposed season-opening match against Hialeah at Milander Park was canceled because the pumps had been mistakenly shut off. Palmetto is now expected to open its comeback season on Feb. 19 against Miami Beach at MDC North Campus.
Carson Hunt, a Palmetto senior who plays water polo year-round with club ball, is just hoping that there is a season.
“Last year, we found out about a week before the season that we weren’t going to play,” Hunt said. “There were a bunch of kids who were bummed, but I was probably the most upset.”
Hunt said he is optimistic that there will be a season — and a good one — largely because of the commitment Vaughan has displayed.
“He came from one of the best water polo programs in the state [Gulliver],” Hunt said. “He’s giving it 100 percent to revive his alma mater.”
Without a pool, Vaughan has been taking his athletes to Coral Reef Park, where the Panthers have done lunges, pull-ups, push-ups and other dry-land conditioning work.
Despite the problems, there are reasons for optimism at Palmetto.
For starters, several boys and one girl have prior experience at the club level with Riptides. In addition, Palmetto teacher Joyce Brislawn, who was a coach at the school when Vaughan played there, has done an excellent job encouraging students at the school to come out for water polo.
As for the practice facility, Palmetto appears to have secured the pool at Gulliver Academy.
“It’s a small pool — it’s not their new one,” Vaughan said. “It may be a bit rough with 35 kids, trying to get everyone in the pool doing something constructive. But it’s a lot better than nothing.”
The top teams for 2016 are expected to include Belen, which beat St. Thomas Aquinas last year in the boys’ state final. On the girls’ side, Ransom Everglades is the defending state champion.
Perennially strong programs for boys and girls are St. Thomas Aquinas, Gulliver and Ransom along with all-boys’ schools Belen and Columbus.
Monday: Regular season began.
Feb. 19-20: St. Andrew’s tournament in Boca Raton
Feb. 26-27: Boca Raton Invitational
March 4-5: Ransom Everglades tournament
March 11-12: Winter Park Wildcat Invitational in Orlando
March 18-19: Gulliver Invitational
March 30-31: GMAC championship
April 1-2: Ransom Invitational
April 4-6: Districts
April 9: State play-in round
April 15-16: State championships at Ransom Everglades.
2015 STATE CHAMPIONS
Boys: Belen Jesuit; Girls: Ransom Everglades
TOP RETURNING BOYS
Alex Alepuz, Belen Jesuit, Sr.; Daniel Rafael, Cooper City, Sr.; Andres Schmidt, Cypress Bay, Sr.; Parker Strickman, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.; GK Erick Labrador, Belen Jesuit, Sr.; GK Alex Pullin, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.
Others to watch: Jonathan Abramowitz, Miami Country Day, Jr.; Romario Defour, South Broward, Sr.; Arturo Freitas, Cypress Bay, Sr.; Louis Giroire, Fort Lauderdale, Sr.; Jason Gould, Ransom Everglades, Jr.; Pablo Kurzan, Belen Jesuit, Jr.; David Lemus, Hialeah, So.; Tyler Lopez, South Broward, So.; Robert Schulte, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.; Daniel Scotese, Mourning, Sr.; Felipe Tilkian, Gulliver, Sr.; Andre Williams, Fort Lauderdale, Sr.; GK: Billy Bevill, Westminster Academy, So.; Eduardo De Las Cuevas, Columbus, Sr.
TOP RETURNING GIRLS
Sofia Carrera-Justiz, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; Hayley Hill, Fort Lauderdale, Sr.; Cara Mullery, MAST, Sr.; Samantha Rosenberg, Gulliver, Sr.; Naomi Sanders, Westminster Academy, Jr.; GK Claire McDowell, Ransom Everglades, Sr.
Others to watch: Nicole Aulicino, Gulliver, So.; Courtney Cook, South Broward, Sr.; Sofia Corces, Ransom Everglades, Jr.; Jessica Cordero, Pines Charter, Sr.; Leila Hathaway, Pines Charter, Sr.; Emily Hill, Fort Lauderdale, Jr.; Phoebe Iglesias, Palmetto, Sr.; Raquel Jimenez, South Broward, Sr.; Amber Lubie, Krop, Sr.; Ashley Luy, Hialeah, So.; Isa Reyes-Capo, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; Margaret Rodriguez, Gulliver, So.; Shani Rupp, Gulliver, So.; Paloma Schafer, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Tania Weiss, Krop, Sr.; GK: Judith Benigni, MAST, Sr.; Gaby Palmisano, Miami Country Day, So.; Elizabeth Perez, Gulliver, Fr.
BOYS’ TEAM-BY-TEAM OUTLOOKS
BELEN - Coach: Jimmy Aguilera; Last year: 26-1: Top players: Alexander Alepuz (sr. F); Pablo Kurzan (jr. M); Erik Labrador (jr. G); Noteworthy: Four starters return from the state champs.
CYPRESS BAY - Coach: Tori Warenik; Last year: NA; Top players: Andres Schmidt (sr. CD); Arturo Freitas (sr. S); Juan Rodriguez (sr. D); Noteworthy: Schmidt and Freitas are fourth-year starters, but the team must break in a new goalie.
FORT LAUDERDALE - Coach: Debbie Cavanaugh; Last year: 14-5; Top players: Andre Williams (sr. U); Louis Giroire (sr. D); William Trybus (jr. 2M); Noteworthy: Williams and Giroire are team captains.
GULLIVER - Coach: Carroll Vaughan; Last year: 15-10-1; Top players: Felipe Tilkian (sr. D); Caio Jordao (jr. D); Max Sabo (jr. D); Noteworthy: Team lost six seniors from last year.
HIALEAH GARDENS - Coach: Victor Corraliza; Last year: 6-4; Top players: Gabriel Maiz (so. H); Isdriel Lorenzo (fr. H); Antonio Cruz (sr. D); Noteworthy: The Maiz-Lorenzo combination could be a good one for the next three years.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY - Coach: Dave Tinkham; Last year: 9-13; Top players: Christian Claramonte (jr. G); Jonathan Abramowitz (jr. U); Erik Bernstien (so. U); Noteworthy: Entire team returns after winning district title.
MOURNING - Coach: Max Respondek; Last year: 10-7; Top players: Daniel Scotese (sr. 2M); Anthony Kaminsky (sr. D); Francisco Randazzo (sr. G); Noteworthy: Scotese had 40 goals last year.
PALMETTO - Coach: Chase Vaughan; Last year: No team; Top players: Carson Hunt (sr. DR); Hugo Henry (sr. D); Brandon Donnigan (fr. G); Noteworthy: Hunt and Henry provide leadership.
RANSOM EVERGLADES - Coach: Eric Lefebvre; Last year: 18-6; Top players: Jason Gould (jr. DR); Miguel Lamar (jr. G); Will Danon (jr. U); Noteworthy: Five of six starters return from a team that lost to eventual state champ Belen in a district final.
SOUTH BROWARD - Coach: Chris Bloese; Last year: 18-3; Top players: Tyler Lopez (so. U); Romario Defour (sr. A); Jack Lucas (so. U); Noteworthy: Lopez had 57 goals as a freshman.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS - Coach: Michael Goldenberg; Last year: 23-2; Top players: Parker Strickman (jr. U); Alex Pullin (sr. G); Robert Schulte (jr. U); Noteworthy: After making it to the state final for four straight years, the Raiders were hit hard by graduation.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY - Coach: Victoria Miklausich; Last year: 14-6; Top players: Billy Bevill (so. G); Adam Warters (fr. S); Chase Perry (so. D); Noteworthy: Defending district champs have solid foundation.
GIRLS’ TEAM-BY-TEAM OUTLOOKS
CYPRESS BAY - Coach: Tori Warenik; Last year: 9-5; Top players: Olivia Howard (jr. O); Stephanie Poleo (sr. D); Nicole Rodriguez (sr. DR); Noteworthy: Howard, Poleo and Rodriguez combined for 31 goals last year.
FORT LAUDERDALE - Coach: Debbie Cavanaugh; Last year: 10-1; Top players: Hayley Hill (sr. S); Emily Hill (jr. U); Juliana Freire (sr. W); Noteworthy: Hayley Hill is seeking to make first-team All-County for the fourth straight year.
GULLIVER - Coach: Carroll Vaughan; Last year: 20-4; Top players: Samantha Rosenberg (sr. C); Nicole Aulicino (so. D); Elizabeth Perez (fr. G); Noteworthy: Rosenberg, a UC Santa Barbara recruit, leads a solid group of starters.
HIALEAH GARDENS - Coach: Tom Binder; Last year: 5-5; Top players: Victoria Segovia (sr. H); Sierra Labra (sr. DR); Amanda Marquez (jr. DR); Noteworthy: Labra also competes in soccer, tennis and cross-country.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY - Coach: Stephanie Ragheb; Last year: 8-13; Top players: Gaby Palmisano (so. G); Amelia Gregorio (jr. D); Maddie Hertz (sr. C); Noteworthy: This team’s forte is defense.
MOURNING - Coach: Luke Schlehuber; Last year: 13-5; Top players: Daphne Scotese (so. U); Nina Latorre (jr. DR); Elaine Lowinger (jr. G); Noteworthy: Young team is building momentum.
PALMETTO - Coach: Chase Vaughan; Last year: No team; Top players: Phoebe Iglesias (sr. D); Kayla Phillips (sr. DR); Savannah Hodges (sr. DR); Noteworthy: Iglesias capable of huge year.
RANSOM EVERGLADES - Coach: Eric Lefebvre; Last year: 26-1; Top players: Sofia Carrera-Justiz (sr. DR); Claire McDowell (sr. G); Isa Reyes-Capo (sr. D); Noteworthy: Two starters return from team that won state.
SOUTH BROWARD - Coach: Chris Bloese; Last year: 17-5; Top players: Courtney Cook (sr. A); Racquel Jimenez (sr. U); Tatum Skove (sr. G); Noteworthy: Cook had 66 goals and 39 assists last year.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS - Coach: Gary Besbris; Last year: 11-13; Top players: Paloma Schafer (sr. U); Natalie Mahalec (so. A); Sabrina Hoffmeister (so. A); Noteworthy: Coach, seeking a third straight district title, says his team is long on experience but short on speed.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY - Coach: Victoria Miklausich; Last year: 14-4; Top players: Naomi Sanders (jr. S); Tori Maxson (sr. DR); Daisy Scasserra (so. DR); Noteworthy: Sanders, who made first-team All-County last year, has been playing year-round for seven years.