BURBANK — Leading into the start of Pacific League play, Crescenta Valley High's girls' water polo team was the prohibitive favorite to defend its league crown with many prognosticating Glendale or Pasadena as the top challenger.
Enter Burroughs, as the upstart Indians surprised many as they set up Thursday afternoon's showdown against the Falcons, which both teams entered undefeated in league.
But as the match came to an anticlimactic finish, the Falcons made an emphatic statement that nobody's yet to challenge them for league supremacy after throttling the host Indians, 16-4.
"I think that was one of our better defensive efforts," said Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio, whose team has all but locked up a third straight league title, needing only a first-round win in the league tournament on Feb. 7 at Burbank High and remains undefeated at 21-0, 6-0 in league. "We made sure ... they understood the significance of this game and what was at stake."
And it took no time for the Falcons to flex their might, jumping out to a 5-0 lead against the shellshocked Indians at the first quarter's end that ballooned to 8-0 before Burroughs' Sam Buliavac scored on a five-meter shot with 2:33 left in the opening half.
"Honestly, everything happened cause we were all very nervous," said Burroughs Coach Danny Garcia, whose team fell to 17-3, 4-1 in league. "We all knew how big this game was, I think that's what got into us.
"We knew what we had to do. We just didn't produce."
It was quite the opposite for the Falcons, who are ranked third in CIF Southern Section Division V.
"Burroughs is a pretty good team. We've been pumped the whole week, we've been practicing for Burroughs the whole week," said Falcons senior Sabrina Hatzer, who had match-highs of seven goals and six steals, along with a pair of assists. "We had so much intensity this game."
Junior Breanna Lawton also had a stellar day for the Falcons with five goals and two assists, while sophomore Elissa Arnold had a pair of goals and a pair of assists. But the match was, for all intents and purposes, decided in the early going and it came, in characteristic fashion for the Falcons, with a balanced attack.
Arnold, Stefanie Loporchio, Shannon Hovanesian, Lawton and Hatzer scored in the first quarter, while the Falcons defense was stifling, recording steals on each of Burroughs' first four possessions and recording seven steals in the stanza overall with Hatzer notching three and Hovanesian two.
"We have so many different athletes and so many different looks," Loporchio said. "They're savvy and they play well together. And they understand the game."
At halftime, Crescenta Valley was up, 9-1, and a pair of goals from Hatzer — the first a one-time off an Ashley Taylor pass — and another tally from Lawton brought the lead to 12-1 before Burroughs got its second goal on a laser from the perimeter by Savannah Simmons with 4:19 to go in the third period.
But a string of five consecutive goals by the Falcons reestablished CV dominance and laid the groundwork for an uneventful final period in which Bulivac scored her second and third goals and the last of the match.
Holding to Buliavac to three scores — two on five-meter shots — was a focal point to the Falcons' game plan, one in which they implemented a zone defense that the team practiced just this week.
"We tried to switch things up a little on Sammy, she's a phenomenal player," said Loporchio, who got 11 saves in just more than three quarters' of work from Gabriel Isacson.
As much as anything, Thursday showed that the Pacific League is very much the Falcons and everyone else.
"I think the difference between us and [Burroughs] is the ability to push the tempo," Loporchio said. "That's the thing we work on all the time is tempo and being able to execute."
Garcia admitted, however, that experience was a giant factor.
"We've never been in this position before," said Garcia, who got 11 saves from goalie Ahsha Earwood. "This is something that's all brand new for these girls. It's all new, so we're still trying to figure out how to handle being one of the top-rated teams around here. Our mess-ups and our mistakes led to their goals."
But Garcia hopes, as his team moves on to play Arcadia in its league finale next week, that Thursday was a learning experience.
"The first thing I told them is you have to keep your head up. You gotta take this as a learning opportunity," he said. "We've got some stuff to work on. I've got really high hopes."
Crescenta Valley is all done with league until the tournament, but takes part in the Oxnard Tournament today and Saturday.
"I was extremely happy," said Hatzer of her team's all-around play. "It just shows overall how hard we're working at practice. Hard work pays off and this game, that definitely showed."