Once she's in the pool and the whistle blows, it's time for Alex Garas to go to work.
She's constantly in motion, whether it's hustling back to defend or launching a pinpoint shot into the back of the cage. It's a formula that's been successful for Garas, the standout sophomore driver on the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team.
"I know going in that I have to step it up on offense and defense," Garas said. "You just try to find ways to become a smarter player because you are facing such good competition all the time.
"There have been a lot of good players who have come through the program who learned to do that, so I'm trying to follow and keep the tradition going. A lot of times after practice, I take shots on goal with nobody defending. You get a better feel for the ball and I try to shoot in the corners."
With an impeccable work ethic, Garas hasn't skipped a beat since joining the Falcons. She's been an exemplary goal scorer focused on maintaining Crescenta Valley's success.
Following the departure of several key starters to graduation, Garas took it upon herself to follow in their footsteps. It led to Garas enjoying another impressive season.
Garas tallied 121 goals, 85 steals and 59 assists. She helped the Falcons go 23-6, 8-0 in the Pacific League for their eighth consecutive league championship and reach the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs. For good measure, Garas was named the Pacific League co-Player of the Year and picked up All-CIF Southern Section third-team honors.
It's because of those accomplishments and more that Garas has been unanimously chosen the 2017 All-Area Girls' Water Polo Player of the Year by the sports writers and editor of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
"We lost seven seniors to graduation, so coming into the season I knew I had to step it up," said Garas, who registered 127 goals last season and earned a spot on the All-Area first team. "I came prepared to make improvements in my game and I had learned a lot from [former players] Audrey Taylor and Brynn Fernandez about how to take on the role of leading. We had a pretty young team this year and I just wanted us to keep improving.
"It was important to keep the streak going in league. It's a great feeling anytime you can win league. You feel proud to be a Falcon."
Crescenta Valley posted an 11-1 win against rival Arcadia in the league's championship match Feb. 9 at Burbank High. Garas finished with a contest-best six goals en route to the Falcons winning their 64th straight league game.
Crescenta Valley then participated in a playoff match against Martin Luther King of Riverside. Garas collected two goals and three steals in a 13-5 defeat.
"I thought we had a good season," Garas said. "It's something we can build off heading into next year.
"We'll continue to build and get better. We'll be better with our communication and all of us will be ready to make more improvements."
Crescenta Valley third-year Coach Ricky Mulcahey said the Falcons are on the right track with Garas paving the way.
"She's a special type of player who doesn't come around that often and we're very glad she's a big part of the team," Mulcahey said. "She's played above and beyond our expectations and she's a great teammate.
"The other teams know a lot about Alex and prepare their game plan around her. She can be double-teamed or triple-teamed and she'll still find a way to get off an accurate shot. We don't have to worry about her on defense, either, because she's able to get steals and then lead a counter-attack. It's her anticipation that takes her to another level."
Crescenta Valley junior driver Kaitlyn Moguel paired with Garas to form a dynamic duo for the Falcons.
Moguel, who earned a share of the league's player of the year, said Garas looked to keep her teammates involved during a match.
"We've played together for a few years and we've always worked well together," said Moguel, an All-Area first-team honoree who recorded 65 goals, 69 assists and 58 steals. "We know where to look for one another all of the time.
"She's taken it upon herself to improve her game while also helping the younger players get better. That's why it's so encouraging to know she's there and is a great teammate."