Two days after grubbing on turkey, stuffing and other Thanksgiving fixings, a bevy of Sharks splashed into the Shark Tank at Malibu High for a holiday tradition.
A group of graduated Malibu boys water polo players defeated members of the current squad, 23-10, in the water polo program’s annual alumni game on Nov. 30.
Tyler Hopman, a former Shark, said he has played in six or seven of the annual contests since graduating from MHS in 2003. He keeps playing in the match held in the Malibu pool each winter in order to reconnect with teammates and players from other Sharks squads.
“It’s good to look back on all the team spirit, the camaraderie,” Hopman said. “You get to see the new faces and new team and how the legacy has lived on.”
The event featured around 20 past Sharks stretching back to the program’s first graduating class in 1996. Some alumni who dived into the water included Jamie Jacobson, Tor Cole, Skylar Peak, Ryan Brown and Sean Merrick. Around a dozen members of the Malibu team competed against their predecessors in front of dozens of family members, fans and friends.
The alumni, wearing black Malibu caps, swam to an early 2-0 lead over the white cap-adorned high school team. The lead ballooned to 5-3 around halftime. The alumni grabbed a 9-5 lead when a tip pass led to a goal, and then they were up, 12-7, at the end of the third period.
The former high school players were up, 13-7, thanks to another score via a tipped pass. They held leads of 18-9 and 22-10 before tallying their final goal.
Sharks head coach Hayden Goldberg, also a former Malibu player, contemplated diving in the tank with the alumni team but decided on coaching the current generation of players in the match in order to give them a head start for the 2020 season next fall.
“I thought we played really well,” he said. “That was the goal. To be able to play against these guys is good for my team.”
Mike Mulligan, the longtime head coach of the water polo team, now an assistant coach, said the alumni game began around 2000. The coach has tried to hold the event annually, but it was canceled last year due to the Woolsey Fire.
Mulligan served as the alumni game’s referee. The CIF title-winning coach was happy to see his former players and the current Malibu team get together.
“This means the world to me,” Mulligan said. “It’s awesome that they come back every year. It makes my Thanksgiving wonderful.”
The Sharks coach said the alumni event allows the past players to relive their high school days.
“They get to beat up on some of the younger kids playing now and get together for Thanksgiving with people they haven’t seen for months or years,” Mulligan said.
He said the event allows the current Sharks to see the history and tradition of Malibu water polo in action.
“They see the style of play the guys still have and the smarts they use—the passing,” Mulligan said of the younger players watching the older athletes. “It gives them an opportunity to strive for excellence.”
Merrick, once described as an intense player by Mulligan after he scored 23 goals in a five-game tournament in 2017, said the alumni game reminded him of a high school reunion with a twist.
“Its fun to get together with all the guys I graduated with and the older guys that started the program,” said the 2009 graduate, “and see the younger guys we don’t know that much.”
The past CIF-Southern Section Division IV co-player of the year was sore after the alumni game, but happy with his performance.
“We always look forward to it,” he said of himself and other former players.
Ryan Brown, a 2011 graduate, called the game a family reunion.
“I haven’t seen most of these guys in such a long time, so it’s cool,” he said. “It’s good to come back.”
His former coach called the contest a family affair.
“These guys love the game,” Mulligan said of the alumni. “They loved everyone on their team, and not just their one year, but guys from 2000, 2004, 2009, 2014. They still have that camaraderie just from playing in the alumni games and being from the community.”