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Bishop’s junior explodes onto water polo scene

Dominique Sardo always seemed to have an affinity for the water. She first tried the sport of water polo when she was 10 years old, and she followed a family tradition by jumping into the pool.

Now, years later, her love for the game is benefiting the girls water polo team at The Bishop’s School. Sardo, a junior at Bishop’s, is coming off a season in which she scored 64 goals and added 48 assists, and she has helped the Knights to consecutive victories in the CIF-San Diego Section Division II championship game. She is clearly the glue that holds this Knights’ team together.

“She’s just incredibly explosive for us,” Bishop’s coach Doug Peabody said. “She’s kind of a power pack - she’s not really that big. I don’t think she’s much bigger than 5-foot-5 and doesn’t weigh any more than 120 pounds, but she’s a super-fast swimmer and is super explosive. She has a really good head for the game. She kind of just brings her quickness, explosiveness and speed to the pool, and a lot of people can’t stay with her because of that.”

Sardo leads the Knights in scoring this season with 26 goals, including a seven-goal game against Rosary, and she leads Bishop’s with 25 steals. Sardo and Zinnea Alexander, who has 12 goals this season, have been the team’s one-two punch on offense and have carried a young team while some of the inexperienced players catch up.

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The Knights are off to a rare slow start this season, entering their Christmas break with a 3-4 record. They opened the season with a 16-3 win over Savannah and an 11-7 win over Rosary of Anaheim, both in the Villa Park tournament, but then suffered an 11-10 defeat to Riverside Poly, a 6-5 loss to Palo Verde and a 7-5 loss to El Toro to wrap up the tournament.

They got back on track later that week with a 9-5 win over Poway, but couldn’t keep the momentum going and dropped an 11-4 decision to Newport Harbor of Newport Beach.

The Knights don’t open league play until the first part of January, and are hoping to have their early-season struggles out of the way by then.

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“We’re having a tough season so far,” Peabody said. “We graduated a lot of players from last year’s team, so we’re playing some seniors who haven’t had a lot of varsity minutes in the past, and we’re playing some sophomores and juniors who played a lot on the junior varsity last year.”

Added Sardo: “I think the losses have made us work harder. Since they’re coming early in the season, I don’t think they’re affecting us too badly. Since they’re not in league, they don’t hurt us and can only prepare us for league play.”

Still, Sardo is standing out and catching the attention of many top colleges.

Sardo also has had plenty of opportunities to play at a high level outside of the high school season.

She recently played an event called the Speedo Top 40 Festival, which brings national-team type players together from all over the country. After that, she attended a junior national team tryout and made the junior national team training squad. She will continue to train with that team throughout the year with hopes of earning a spot on the team that goes to the junior Pan American Games next summer in Mexico.

“Getting to play at a high level like the junior national team is pretty amazing,” Sardo said. “Usually you get to work with the players trying to make the Olympic team. It’s amazing to watch them and think that you’re on that path. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Sardo also plays on the San Diego Shores club team that Peabody coaches, so he has been able to watch her game improve steadily throughout the years.

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“She’s doing a great job, for sure,” Peabody said. “I think what she’s doing can rub off on some of the younger girls and the less-experienced players at Bishop’s.”

Sardo’s older brother, Nico, was a star player for the Knights’ boys water polo team and now plays for USC. Both Nico and Dominique started playing at the age of 10, and Dominique Sardo has never played any other sports.

“I was on some swim teams before I started playing water polo, but once I went to Nico’s games and saw how much fun he was having, I decided to try it,” Sardo said. “I did, and I just fell in love with the sport. It’s just an exciting game.”

The same could be said about Sardo’s game, and the Knights are clearly happy she took to the sport.