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Fischer is the O.C. Small School Girls Athlete of the Year
LOS ALAMITOS - Makenzie Fischer recently recalled her rivals from the girls water polo season to form an illuminating list.
The Laguna Beach senior rattled off Corona del Mar’s Maddie Musselman, Newport Harbor’s Carlee Kapana and San Marcos’ Paige Hauschild as CIF-SS Division 1 opponents who became her teammates this spring on the U.S. National team.
“It was never easy,” Fischer said of her 2014-15 high school season before a practice with the U.S. national team. “All of our top games were really hard because there (were) so many good players in high school that would be guarding me; I would be guarding them.”
The winter also featured the tugging current from Laguna Beach’s long winning streak.
“That was a lot of pressure,” she said.
Fischer spoke with a strong appreciation for the season but also unintentionally framed the uniqueness of her accomplishments. She out-dueled a few world-class competitors and overcame sky-high expectations to lead Laguna Beach – the smallest conventional public high school in Orange County - to an undefeated championship season in Division 1.
For her efforts, Fischer is the Register’s Orange County Small School Female Athlete of the Year.
“Big Fish in a small pool,” said a grinning Adam Krikorian, the U.S. women’s national team coach who scouted many of Fischer’s high school games.
“You didn’t need to know a whole lot about the game of water polo to go to one of those games and see she (was the) best player out there.”
The Stanford-bound Fischer dominated both ends of the pool. She used a powerful shot and speed on the counterattack to lead the Breakers (31-0) in goals (138). She used her 6-foot-1 frame and aggressiveness on defense to pace the team in steals (61). Her play helped Laguna Beach, with an enrollment of just over 1,000 students, run its winning streak to a county-record 52 matches.
The season also prompted longtime Laguna Beach historian Frank Aronoff to rank Fischer on the “short list” of the school’s all-time best female athletes.
Recently retired Newport Harbor coach Bill Barnett, who likely faced Fischer as much as any coach, said Fischer, a two-time Register player of the year, and rising national team star Kiley Neushul were the two best high school players he has watched “in a long time.”
“I thought our girls were really intimidated by (Fischer),” said Barnett, adding, “not that it wasn’t deserved.”
Fischer saved something extra for the moments when the Breakers needed her most. She netted winning goals late in matches. In the Division 1 final, she switched to guard Foothill’s Cana Manzella, cooling off the All-County center to change the course of the game.
“The bigger the game, the bigger the circumstance, the better she played,” Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said of the two-time CIF Division 1 player of the year.
“One of the most special things that people don’t understand about her - because she is so stoic, so calm - is that she is as fierce of a competitor as they come. Any challenge that she is presented with, she is excited about.”
Fischer attributes her drive to her parents, whom she said also are competitive. Her parents, Leslie and Erich, both attended Stanford and her father played for Barnett on the U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team in 1992 in Barcelona.
Barnett viewed intelligence as Erich Fischer’s greatest strength as a player. That’s one of the qualities Erich has passed on to Makenzie, and her sister, Aria, who also played for the national team this spring.
“She always gets a little coaching from Pop,” Krikorian said of Fischer. “He was an incredible player.”
Fischer also led Laguna Beach to the CIF Division 1 championship as a junior, but Krikorian and Damato were among the observers this season who believed that she played with a different edge.
“I saw a player who was more confident, a better leader and just more explosive,” Krikorian said.
Krikorian’s belief was confirmed when Fischer played for the national team earlier this spring. In early May, Fischer helped a young U.S. squad capture the FINA Intercontinental Tournament in New Zealand by playing defender and leading the team in scoring with 13 goals. She also earned all-tournament honors playing against older players.
One reason for Fischer’s leap has been her continued work with a personal strength coach. Krikorian identified strength as an area for improvement and true to form, Fischer embraced the challenge.
“I just try to always listen to what my coaches have to say and really take it to heart,” she said.
Fischer’s upward trend makes her an Olympic contender for the United States, which will attempt in March to qualify for Rio 2016. Her commitment includes deferring her enrollment at Stanford to train.
“If she continues to work the way she has, I see good things for her,” Krikorian said. “Who knows where this road can take her.”
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