IRVINE — Amid tournament titles and Pacific League championships, there was one crown and one accolade that lacked for the Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo program.
Perhaps it was fitting that a brilliant year turned into a banner season for the Falcons, who captured their first-ever CIF Southern Section championship thanks to a stout defense, highlighted by senior goalie Gabriel Isacson, in a 10-5 victory versus Riverside Poly in Saturday’s Division V championship at Irvine’s William J. Woollett Aquatic Center on Saturday afternoon.
The title is the first for the top-seeded Falcons (32-2) in their history and comes in the team’s inaugural finals visit as the program had been denied in four previous semifinal appearances.
“We worked at this for seven months and now those girls are going to be the CIF champions for the rest of their lives,” said Falcons first-year Coach Brent Danna. “There’s going to be a plaque and a banner in our gym until that gym comes down and that’s something special.”
Perhaps no Falcons player shined brighter Saturday than Isacson, who finished with 16 saves and was part of a defense that held the second-seeded Bears (26-6) to a one-for-six performance on six-on-five tries and one-for-two day on five-meter penalty chances.
“I came into the game super excited, but at the same time, I didn’t know what to expect,” Isacson said. “After watching the first quarter and seeing what they did, I knew I couldn’t leave this game without doing my best.”
Isacson may have been most dominant in the fourth quarter, just when the Falcons began to pull away leading, 7-4, at the start.
The Bears outshot the Falcons, 9-7, but didn’t net a goal until a token score from junior two-meter attacker Julie Swieca with 10 seconds remaining.
Prior to that goal, the Falcons created separation with a score from Katie Benson (three goals), who was assisted by senior Breanna Lawton at 4:28, and on a goal with 2:52 remaining from Elissa Arnold, who spun around her defender, Jacqueline Bywater, and found the back of the net.
“This is the ultimate goal, to win CIF in high school,” Arnold said. “Once we got that score, I knew we had it.”
Perhaps lost in the fact the Falcons took a 9-4 advantage was that Isacson was under constant siege.
The senior keeper blocked a quarter-opening shot from Swieca only to turn around and deny freshman Lauren Bywater on a Bears’ six-on-five opportunity 50 seconds later.
The power-play denial was the first of two orchestrated by the Falcons’ defense in the quarter, as Poly’s Paizlee Dreyer was also stopped with 58 seconds remaining.
Crescenta Valley’s final goal came from Ashley Taylor (three goals) on a backhand with 30 seconds remaining to cement the Falcons’ finals win.
“Our goal in every game is to keep our opponents to scoring one goal a quarter,” Danna said.
Perhaps the best momentum-crushing quarter was the second, as the Bears again outshot the Falcons, 8-5, but still saw their first-quarter deficit of two goals only change from 3-1 to 4-2.
In that quarter, Isacson stuffed Jacqueline Bywater on a five-meter penalty try with 4:35 remaining that preserved the Falcons’ two-goal advantage.
That block was crucial as Jacqueline Bywater bounced back and scored on another five-meter attempt with 3:22 remaining to bring the Bears within 3-2.
The score remained for the next two minutes until the Falcons netted a five-meter penalty of their own from Benson with 1:16 left to go back up 4-2.
Benson’s goal was the lone score for the Falcons on three five-meter penalty tries. The Falcons also struggled with a man-advantage in converting only one of five attempts.