After scoring 100-plus goals in a spectacular 2022 season, Karly Frangieh has returned for her senior season stronger physically and a more polished water polo player, coach Don Appleton said. Photo courtesy of Appleton.

Los Gatos High girls water polo coach Don Appleton said as long as the team focuses on improving, the Wildcats will once again reach lofty heights this season.

They’re coming off a 2022 campaign that included a historic run through the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division, going a perfect 17-0 en route to winning the regular-season and playoff tournament titles. 

That qualified them for the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs for the second consecutive year, meaning they were one of the eight best teams in the section. 

“The goals remain the same,” Appleton said. “We’re always looking to add another league title, always looking to stay in that Open Division, look for that CCS title and see how far we can go in NorCals. But the real goal is to keep improving because as long as the girls keep improving, the wins will come. We’re trying to keep the fun rolling.”

And with six of the seven starters off last year’s 28-3 team returning for 2023 and armed with an extra year of experience, it’s no wonder Appleton said “we’re feeling pretty good” entering the season. Los Gatos opens up league play against Palo Alto on Sept. 7 followed a day later by its biggest challenger to its throne in Castilleja. 

Senior Karly Frangieh is coming off a junior season in which she racked up north of 100 goals. Though she will definitely be the main focus of each opposing team’s defense, Frangieh returns as a more experienced and polished water polo player—a scary thought for Los Gatos opponents. 

“Up until this last season, Karly was a part-time water polo player because she swam full time,” Appleton said. “This past [club] year, she decided to play water polo full time so we’ve definitely seen a lot of growth from her in the spring and summer time.”

A two-time state swim qualifier and last year’s CCS 200-yard free champion and third-place finisher in the 100, Frangieh utilizes her speed well, getting out in space and creating all sorts of problems for opponents. 

“We don’t think there’s a player out here faster than her,” Appleton said. “Plus, now she’s got the strength and size, she’s taller, her frame has filled out a little bit and she’s been working hard in our resistance training [program]. She’s strong.”

Returning goalie Rachel Stephens also put in a lot of work in the off-season, consisting of swimming and goalie clinic workouts. 

“I think she’s going to be competing for one of the top goalies in the section,” Appleton said. 

In addition to her defense, Stephens plays a vital role in the team’s counter attack offense. Last year, upon making a save, she promptly delivered pinpoint passes and hit a teammate in-stride which led to a counter attack goal. 

“That’s going to be a big part of our game because we’re a really fast team,” Appleton said. 

Karissa Elliott, a returning senior center defender, has been an anchor on the team and is projected to be one of the best at her position in the CCS. Fellow senior Ella Ralston has also improved her game, particularly with her shotmaking. 

“Ella is a lefty and really understands her role as a shooter,” Appleton said. “I think she’s going to be scoring her fair share of goals and be a difference-maker in a lot of games.”

Junior Julia Ernsting played up an age group on Appleton’s 18U club team as a 16-year-old during the summer season. 

“She gained some valuable experience that will allow her to make even more of an impact this season than she did last year,” Appleton said. 

Senior Abby Lockman has come back “full force” at the center position and will be a big-time difference-maker. Lockman possesses tremendous strength and knows how to position herself well, which should result in a number of exclusions and give the Wildcats a bevy of man-advantage possessions. 

Senior lefty center Bella Shedroff earned praise from Appleton for her development in the off-season. 

“She made big leaps and bounds since last year and has been really impressive to watch,” he said. 

Appleton also noted lefty junior Katie Nelson’s expected impact as she’ll be logging more minutes in the upcoming season. 

“This year her understanding of the game is catching up with her athleticism,” Appleton said. “She splits her time between basketball and water polo and played a little more water polo this year. She’ll be sneaking in some goals that people are not expecting.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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