STUDIO CITY — Whether or not anyone within the Pacific League or CIF Southern Section Division V will stop the Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo team from repeating as CIF Southern Section divisional champion will not be determined for weeks.
In the meanwhile, the Falcons had no problems demonstrating that they could play in another stratum, as Division V second-ranked Crescenta Valley was at times dominant in frustrating and ultimately defeating Division III No. 2 Harvard-Westlake, 15-9, on the road Wednesday afternoon.
“I was really impressed that we ended up winning the game by six goals because we were down two starters in the second half,” Falcons Coach Brent Danna said. “We actually extended the lead with two subs and that was impressive, especially against this team.”
It could be argued that the Falcons (10-3) were outplayed in the second quarter, but still took an 8-5 advantage into the break.
That lead ballooned to 13-6 after Crescenta Valley won the third quarter, 5-1, thanks to a smothering defense.
Perhaps the Falcons were strongest in penalty-kill mode, as Harvard Westlake (6-4) had three six-on-five opportunities in the quarter, all coming on fouls called against sophomore Audrey Taylor (two goals), who was subsequently ejected with three minutes remaining in the third.
The Wolverines only scored on one such attempt on a goal from two-meter attacker Sydney Cheong, who was assisted by Rebecca Armstrong.
The score came at the 4:14 mark and brought the Wolverines within 9-6.
Unfortunately for Harvard-Westlake, the Falcons held the home team scoreless for more than five minutes by clamping down on Cheong and forcing several perimeter shots.
Offensively, Natalie Krebsbach scored the Falcons’ second goal of the third quarter on Crescenta Valley’s own six-on-five advantage off an assist from Elissa Arnold with 3:53 remaining in the third that put the visitors ahead by four.
Crescenta Valley continued to pile on the scoring, grabbing goals from Ashley Taylor and then from Arnold to go up, 12-6, before notching one more goal in the closing seconds.
Falcons senior Ashley Taylor took hold of a cross-pool pass from Arnold and scored with one second on the shot clock and 15 seconds remaining overall to virtually seal the game as the Falcons led, 13-6, after three.
“We were all really nervous going into this game because it was our first big game after winter break,” said Arnold, who finished with three goals. “League play is hard for us to get motivated for, so these games are great to know where our heads should be and to get us to go farther into CIF.”
While the Wolverines scored the first two goals of the fourth quarter to climb within 13-8 with 3:30 left in the contest, Crescenta Valley iced the game 31 seconds later when Ashley Taylor scored on another six-on-five advantage.
For Ashley Taylor, Wednesday was exceptional day for the senior, who finished with a team-high seven goals and then took on the onus of guarding Harvard-Westlake’s top player in Cheong.
“Our defense revolved around Ashley Taylor being able to shut down their big player,” Danna said. “If she can’t do what she just did then our entire defensive game plan has to change.
“We can press, gap and counter when Ashley is pushing [Cheong] outside of two meters.”
Cheong finished with five goals, but her squad struggled to find solid offensive looks when the attacker was unable to penetrate the Falcons’ defense.
“She’s a great player and it’s just a matter of being one step ahead of her,” Ashley Taylor said. “The way our defense is set up, we’re able to help each other. I like playing against Sydney because she’s a great challenge.”
Crescenta Valley raced out to a 6-1 advantage after one quarter thanks in part to forcing five turnovers, with three coming via steals from Audrey Taylor on pass attempts to Cheong.
Overall, the Falcons goaltending duo of Tiffany Duarte and Mackenzie Drewe also aided the defensive effort as the pair finished with seven combined saves.
Maybe the Falcons’ only lax quarter was the second, in which Harvard-Westlake climbed back into the contest, winning, 4-2.
Cheong may have had her biggest impact during the second, as she scored two goals and assisted on another.
The Falcons also lost their first starter, Ani Aghakanian, to fouls, as she also picked up three exclusions in the quarter and was ejected with a minute remaining in the first half.
“We didn’t miss a beat. That’s what I was most surprised with,” Danna said. “That’s what’s great. You couldn’t tell the difference between us playing with all our starters or with two subs.”