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La Jolla Athlete of the Week: Water polo goalie Max LaGrange is getting his moment in the sun

La Jolla High School varsity water polo goalie Max LaGrange blocks the net.
(Nicola Bugelli)

Despite being “well-versed” in the world of water polo from the time he was a child, La Jolla High School senior Max LaGrange said he feels that this year is truly his year.

The 17-year-old goalie is getting his time to shine after spending years watching his brother play from the sidelines and being backup goalie the past three years.

“I grew up watching my brother [Zack, who was recruited out of high school to play water polo at Stanford University] play water polo for most of my life,” Max said. “I felt well-versed in that world and was fascinated with the sport because I watched it growing up. People always asked me when I was going to play.”

Even as a spectator, Max had his sights on being a goalie. “Every time I watched my brother’s games, I would always watch the goalie play. I would watch my brother score goals, but I was always interested in the goalie,” he said.

Max got his turn in the pool when he was about 7 but took a break to play sports such as baseball and soccer. In seventh grade, he got back into water polo with a club team. When the time came for him to play for La Jolla High School, Levi Lentin was the starting goalie (he was voted MVP by his teammates in 2020 and now plays for UC Santa Barbara), so Max would have to wait awhile longer for his moment in the net.

But that’s not to say Max doesn’t appreciate the path those before him have laid out.

“Seeing these guys ahead of me shows you what’s possible and drives you to be better and play better as a teammate,” Max said. “They show you what it’s like to be on a team sport. You want to be like them and be the best you can be.”

“You don’t get anything you don’t work for. You have to work for what you want.”

Max LaGrange

Varsity water polo coach Tom Atwell said: “Max has far exceeded any expectations as a goalie. He’s playing out of his mind. ... We’re beyond happy with what he has been able to do. He was chosen right away as a team captain and has been such a great leader. He’s vocal in practice and in games, he carries himself in an admirable way and has taken this game to another level for us.”

Plus, Atwell said, “he’s a fiery kid. He’s so well-mannered and the nicest kid in the world on deck, but he gets fired up during games. ... He wants excellence. When it’s time to compete, he wants to win.”

Going into the first round of the CIF playoffs this week, Max said: “I’ve never seen a team with such good chemistry. When it’s game time, we focus, and in practice we make each other better. That’s our biggest strength. … This is one of the best teams I’ve seen La Jolla High School have and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Out of the pool, Max has a 4.56 grade point average, because “that’s what student-athletes do. It’s all about discipline and consistency,” he said.

He has “always had the goal to do well in school, go to a good college and get a good career going,” he said. “It’s challenging, but if you have a good routine, you can do it. You don’t get anything you don’t work for. You have to work for what you want.”

La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.