By Steve Virgen
9:47 PM PST, December 20, 2012
This game — the one in the water with the yellow ball and players swimming back and forth trying to put that ball into a net — is fun for Ilene Umansky.
It's fun to score and it's fun to learn about water polo for Umansky.
Two years ago, the Estancia High senior saw a water polo ball up close for the first time when she went out to play for the girls' team. She quickly picked up the game even though she didn't swim properly.
Instead of the traditional freestyle stroke, she used somewhat of a breaststroke or even dog paddle when she first played water polo as a sophomore. But she always seemed to have a knack to score.
She scored a team-high 82 goals and earned first-team All-Orange Coast League honors in her sophomore year when she led the Eagles to their first CIF playoff berth in five years. Last year, she put in 119 goals, an Estancia single-season record that was No. 4 in Orange County for the 2011-12 season. That put her on the Daily Pilot Dream Team with more first-team all-league recognition.
This year, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week has scored 64 goals through 12 games, which leads the county. She is averaging just under six goals a game, one more goal-per-game than last year.
In the pool at Estancia, Umansky is known as a natural.
She has led the Eagles to an 8-4 record. In each game, she knows her role.
"At times I feel pressure," Umansky said. "During the games, I force myself to relax and remember why I'm playing. I'm not playing to stress myself out. I'm playing to have fun. Of course we want to win but in the end it comes to how much fun I'm having."
If Umansky sounds like a familiar name when it comes to recent Estancia water polo that's because her older brother, Charlie, also played for the Eagles.
But he wasn't the only reason, Umansky wanted to play the game too.
Umansky had always wanted to play basketball as a winter sport at Estancia, but she suffered a broken right ankle while competing for the volleyball team as a freshman.
She fractured three bones and tore some ligaments in the ankle, she said. Later, she believed basketball would be too violent on her ankle. Girls' water polo coach Jennifer Broderick, also one of Umansky's teachers during her sophomore year, encouraged Umansky to play water polo.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"Her brother was a pretty good player," Broderick said as a reason why she told Umansky to play on her team. "I knew she could serve in volleyball and she had that competitive personality. And, she was always playing with boys."
Umansky grew up playing sports with boys in the neighborhood. She played in a parks-and-recreation league with Estancia High boys' basketball players Ben Beck and Matt Jarmacz, she said.
She also played baseball and flag football with the boys.
"Having an older brother, he always roughed me up a bit," Umansky said with a smile. "We didn't really watch TV. We were always outside. Any sport, you name it, we were out there doing it."
Her childhood games helped her become a quick learner of water polo.
"It does surprise me that I picked [water polo] up so quick," Umansky said. "But when I was young I would always play baseball with the boys. I would have throwing contests with them and I could throw as far as them. I had some sort of throwing talent."
In addition to talent, she has a competitive side to her. Most times, when she's about to score, she'll stare down the goalie.
At that moment, if her eyes could speak, they would say, "I'm going to score on you and you're not going to stop me."
But don't let that moment fool you. Umansky is known for her humor and for being outgoing, Broderick said.
"She is a lot of fun to be around," Broderick said. "She is very positive. She likes to make people laugh around her."
Umansky is also known as a great student, who is very organized.
"I like to know what I'm doing so I can do things before they happen," she says.
She is one of the top students at Estancia, Broderick said of Umansky, who also plays volleyball.
In the spring, Umansky doesn't play a sport so she says she wants to find a job.
After high school, she's interested in becoming an occupational therapist like her mother, Amy. Umansky is also fascinated with being an athletic trainer.
She's already been accepted into Scranton University's occupational therapy program. She's also applied to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where her brother attends, and San Diego State, as she plans to earn a degree at a four-year university before transferring for another degree in occupational therapy.
She has it all planned out. And, much like her water polo playing style, she plans to have fun and seize the opportunity.
There's symbolism when Broderick describes Umansky's role for the Eagles.
"I don't think it's so much that we go to her for scoring, but she takes it into her own hands," Broderick said. "When she feels something is not happening, she just does it. I don't really have to ask her to shoot. If she has the ball she is probably going to shoot."
Born: May 18, 1995
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Sport: Girls' water polo
Coach: Jennifer Broderick
Favorite Food: "Anything dark chocolate"
Favorite movie: "Bridesmaids"
Favorite athletic moment: "When we got to throw Coach [Jennifer] Broderick in the pool when we made it into CIF [playoffs] two years ago."
Week in review: Umansky tied a career-high with nine goals in a 21-2 win over Westminster Dec. 12 and had seven goals in a 10-1 victory over Santa Ana Dec. 13. She has scored 64 goals this season, which leads Orange County.