LAKE FOREST, CA., Jan. 12. LAUREN Heineck used to travel 3000 miles just to play water polo.
Now she commutes less than 30.
The 5-10 El Toro High senior, a two-meter defender originally from Anapolis, Md., is a starter for the Chargers' team that is 7-2 this season, ranked among Southern California's Top 10 teams, and a contender for CIF Championship honors next month.
She was also a starter as a two-meter defender on the United States' junior national team that won the World Championship title last month in Perth, Australia.
A poloist since first learning the game as an age grouper in Anapolis a decade ago, Heineck used to commute from Maryland to practice with the U.S.
national junior team at its training base in the Armed Forces Centerin at Los Alamitos, CA., just south of Long Beach.
After having been home-schooled by her mom since the sixth grade, Heineck finally moved to Southern California in August to be closer to the Los Alamitos facility. She originally intended to enroll at Santa Margarita High because several of her junior-team teammates attended school there.
However, the private school turned her admission down on grounds that she lacked the necessary transcripts from an accredited high school.
No problemo for the UCLA-bound Heineck, who'll join Bruin coach Adam Krikorian's defendiung NCAA Championship squad this September. She switched her allegiance to El Toro High, where she had previously competed in junior tournaments at the school's spacious aquatic facility, and was accepted for
"Life takes its course," she says. "Whatever ended up happening, I probably would have had a good time anyway."
Heineck adds that the switch from a home-school environment to a large suburban public high school hasn't been that difficult. "It's definitely a big school, but I don't feel inferior here. Probably
because I'm outgoing enough that I'm not scared by it. Other kids in the same situation might not feel that way, but it's easy to get used to."
El Toro Coach Don Stoll was thrilled to have a player of Heineck's caliber literally fall into his lap.
"She's wonderful," the Charger coach says. "She's not only a great player, she's so easy to get along with. The team likes her and she's doing well in her classes."
Stoll thinks his team can win the Division 1 title next month at Belmoint Plaza, and felt the Chargers would have been competitive even without Heineck.
"But she gives a good shot at winning the whole thing."
Heineck began playing polo at age 10 for a Navy age-group club, and got her first dose of international competition four years ago when she played with the national team at the NorAm Tournament in Canada.
She played for national youth teams in 1999 and 2000, then made the junior team last summer that would win the World Championship gold in Perth. She also played in a tournament in Northern California last summer with the U.S. senior national team and wouldn't mind taking a trip to Athens in three years as a member of the Olympic team.
However, first up is winning a CIF Championship this season. The Chargers are 7-2 after a 7-zip start, and are competing in the prestigious Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions this weekend — a meet that features, among others, No. 5-ranked Newport Harbor, whoi handed El Toro its first defeat last week; and No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Santa Ana Foothill.
– Bill Bell