Standouts in Their Sports, These Young South Bay Competitors Put Ability, Endurance and Teamwork Front and Center
State of play.
- Written & photographed byKat Monk
Hermosa Beach’s Dalia Frias, 18, hit her stride as California’s Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year. The prestigious award recognizes not only outstanding athletic experience but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. “What sets Dalia apart from other runners is her talent combined with her incredible work ethic,” shares Mira Costa High School coach Renee Williams-Smith.
Known for a beaming smile as she runs, Dalia raced to the Division II individual state championships with a time of 16:52, leading the Mustangs to the state title as a team. She also won the Woodbridge classic, the Mt. SAC Invitational and the Southern Section Championships. She placed fifth at the national cross-country championships, earning All-American honors in the process. She just might be one of the fastest runners to come from the South Bay.
Dalia, now a senior at Mira Costa, started high school without a sport of choice and was open to opportunities. The daughter of roller hockey parents, she picked up a stick at age 7—playing center for the Lady Ducks. But the commute to and from Anaheim two to three times a week proved exhausting, not to mention the amount of time spent on the ice. However, playing center and covering more ice surface than any other player certainly helped her endurance as a runner.
Although not initially drawn to running, Dalia decided to try it when a group of friends signed up for the Mira Costa cross-country program. She instantly fell in love with the team and coaches, but it wasn’t until they started racing that she really began to enjoy running. Eyeing the accolades of previous runners on the record board, she set her sights on breaking some of those records herself. Despite her newness to the sport, she broke Laura Cattivera’s nearly 30-year record for the 800.
This fall Dalia will be off to Raleigh, North Carolina, to run for Duke University. As her future comes into view, this young athlete looks forward to building on her momentum—one finish line at a time.
A California state champion and MVP as a junior, Manhattan Beach’s Kai Honda, 16, will not be regretting his decision to transfer to Junipero Serra High School in Gardena to play football. Los Angeles Times credited Kai for his pivotal play at a crucial game moment. Kai could be following in the footsteps of Josh Rosen, who opted to attend St. John Bosco and is now a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons after playing at UCLA.
“Kai has that special ‘it factor’ that is hard to explain,” says Derrick Abell, his freshman coach at Mira Costa High School. “But when you see it, you realize how special the talent is that you are witnessing.”
Nicknamed “Jim Thorpe” for his talent and versatility, Kai supports his team not solely as a running back but also as their punter and kicker. “One of Kai’s biggest assets is his consistency with his play in all of his positions,” says Serra football coach Rich Mitsuda. “He gained over 1,150 yards and has made many critical punts, PATs (point after touchdown) and field goals for us all season long.”
Kai’s “play of the game” happened just after losing their starting quarterback to a game-ending injury. Kai made an impressive punt that landed at the 1-yard line, trapping Bakersfield’s Liberty High School in their own zone. “So besides running the ball, catching the ball, punting, kicking off and kicking our PATs and field goals, he can also tackle and tackle well for us,” explains coach Rich.
“Kai has phenomenal athletic gifts that include speed, vision and mental toughness that are rare qualities to see in any one athlete,” adds coach Derrick.
Just before the high school state championship game between Serra and Liberty, Robert “Woody” Woods—2010 Serra graduate and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver—stopped by his alma mater to congratulate the team on the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) championship win.
“He had left red custom Beats with our numbers printed on the inside of the headphones and a note saying ‘CIF champs! Congrats on the big win! Way to tune out the noise! Hope you enjoy these BEATS on your way to state! #ALLHAIL,’” shares Kai. “Everyone was extremely happy, and it definitely helped us ‘tune out the noise’ and ultimately win the state game.”
A four-year varsity coxswain at Chadwick High School, Hope Galusha, 17, enjoys her position as the eyes and ears of her team. “Hope is unfailingly positive, kind and optimistic, but she’s also got a competitive side that it is easy to underestimate, given how nice she is to everyone,” explains her coach Zohar Abramovitz of Marina Aquatic Center located in Marina del Rey.
As the steersman of the boat, Hope must play director but also foster strong positive energy to the eight backward-facing rowers who have relinquished their control to her. “Looking back at Hope’s first year on the varsity team, athletes were hesitant to trust a new coxswain and would often doubt her,” shares teammate Carly Milosevic. “This obstacle only empowered her to prove to us she was worthy of being in top boats by being open to athlete feedback.”
Hope’s coach provides the team with a basic race plan, instructing them when to increase their rate or take moves/sprint. “Before races, I sit down and list some technical calls that are specific to the rowers in my boat, so I make sure to call them during the race,” says Hope.
As the boat navigates the water, you might hear Hope say, “Engage with the legs off of the catch,” “Stay horizontal,” and “Way-enough” (which means “stop”). Her priority remains to keep the team safe and informed—a responsibility that requires mutual trust. Hope knows rowing can be grueling not only physically but mentally.
“I witness the athletes’ struggles firsthand, which makes it inexplicably rewarding when I get to watch them, or better yet help them succeed,” she adds. “When I am coxing my boat to a tight finish, I find myself tensing my quads and clenching my toes, pressing forcefully against the footboard out of pure zeal and anticipation. I may not hold an oar, but I am equally as motivated and invested in their achievement.”
As Pepperdine’s volleyball team aspires for an NCAA championship this year, one of their outside hitters puts Palos Verdes on the court. Akin Akinwumi, 20, led the Palos Verdes Peninsula High School Panthers to the 2019 Southern Section Division III title and a spot in the CIF Southern Section regional final. Named player of the year, he also tied for fifth on the 2019 Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 list.
In addition to his star turn in high school, Akin played on the United States Boys’ Youth National Team at the FIVB Volleyball World Championships in 2019. Though not originally on the roster due to a registration discrepancy, he was able to come off the bench to play a big role in the match. But there was an added pride when he saw who was across the court.
“I was excited when I first saw that Nigeria was in our pool,” explains Akin, whose parents were born in Nigeria. “It reminds me of how the game of volleyball unites the world.”
After a difficult loss to Santa Barbara, the Pepperdine coach led an intense follow-up practice. “My coach David Hunt was really getting on us, making sure we live up to a standard we set for ourselves as a team,” Akim shares.
Despite his exhaustion, he remembers reaching new potential as a player. “The important part of the memory wasn’t about volleyball at all though,” he says. “It allowed me to reach a new level psychologically in a time of extreme fatigue that I didn’t even know I could and because it pushed my limit like it did. I will hold on to that moment forever and strive to reach that within whatever endeavor I’m fully committed to in life.”
Jadyn Lee, 17, helped Palos Verdes Peninsula High School win three Bay League titles over three consecutive years—a feat not accomplished since 20 years ago when her coach Natalie Kelly played for the team.
A left-handed player, Jadyn gives the opposing team’s defense a rough time trying to defend her. Though she plays offense and defense equally well, she prefers to go on the offense.
“When I am playing basketball, it feels like I don’t really have to worry about the stress from school. I can just enjoy the game and put it all out there,” she says. “I can play my heart out.” In a posted video clip, you see her execute three steals and three layups in just 30 seconds.
Getting her start in the Asian basketball leagues, Jadyn credits her early coaches for giving her a solid foundation. “It’s been fun but a little strange going to rival high schools, since I’ve played with Jadyn for such a long time,” says Bella Hokama, a teammate since kindergarten. “She is one of the most dedicated and hardworking people I know and works extremely hard on and off the court.
Excelling at smooth moves both on and off the court, Jadyn veers off the college question—admitting that after a big win she loves to indulge in some strawberry cheesecake ice cream. With an impressive 4.8 GPA, Jadyn makes academics her priority and thrived at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School.
“Jadyn Lee is the most talented basketball player I have coached,” says coach Natalie. “Not only that, but she is also extremely coachable, always great with her teammates, humble, hardworking and a great all-around person. She is an exceptional student athlete who has the ability to take over games.”