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Driving opponents silly

Mirjam Swanson

LA CRESCENTA -- What the Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo team

has accomplished over the past four years is a testament to devotion,

perseverance, chemistry, and silliness.


Yup, down-home goofiness.

Straight-up wackiness.

A genuine commitment to having a great time.

“There you go, then,” Megan Winchell said.


“There you go, then,” Jessie Stiles said.

And together: “There you go, then.”

It goes something like this: The best girls’ water polo team in area

history has laughed its way all they way back to the CIF Southern Section

Division III semifinals, where on Wednesday it again will face

Harvard-Westlake at 6:30 p.m. at L.A. Valley College.

“We walked into Valley on Saturday [for their quarterfinal 15-6 win

against Chino],” said Stiles, sounding as if she was about to tell a


joke, but instead revealing the secret of her team’s

55-wins-and-six-losses-in-the-past-two-seasons success.

“And we were like, ‘Do you think [Chino is] scared of us?’ And it was

like, ‘No!’ We’re big goofballs, what the heck?”

Put it this way, the Falcons (27-3) pull up to away matches in the

yellow bus, belting out their favorite Offspring song, having just traded

one sock and one sandal with theirrespective bus partners, right before

grasping that bus partner’s hand and traipsing once around the pool as a



And that’s just a warm-up for their in-pool superstitions: Think Sammy

Sosa’s home run routine, multiplied and amplified.

So, then, why wouldn’t the Wolverines (20-7), whose task today is to

end the Falcons’ season in the semifinals for the second straight season,

be afraid?

They’re going to have to face the three 17-year-old senior

ring-leaders of this water polo extravaganza.

They’re going to have to get the ball past goalkeeper Amy Brunton,

CV’s in-cage commando -- “Megan and Jessie, being team captains this

year, they’ve had a lot of influence. I have a lot of influence because I

just never shut up.”

Brunton, by her stat-keeping father, Paul’s, count, has made 226 saves

so far this season (including 17 in the Falcons’ 6-3 win against

Harvard-Westlake on Dec. 5) -- in addition to her 41 assists.

They’ll have to contend with Winchell, the fearless driver with the

powerful shot -- and 90 goals (plus 44 assists) entering today’s match.

Ask Arcadia goalkeeper Ashley Kettle, who had to leave the Pacific

League championship match because one of Winchell’s shots was deflected

at her nose, bloodying it profusely.

They’ll have to slow Stiles, whose name just fits.

Her’s is the fluid, crowd-pleasing game that’s accounted for 88 goals

-- and 42 assists.

And they’ll have to slow the Stiles-to-Winchell/

Winchell-to-Stiles/Brunton-to-whomever’s-open connection.

Because it is really some connection.

“It’s like everyone [on the team] has a link,” Winchell explained.

“We’ve all become close with someone on the team.

“Jessie and I have a link. Amy and [senior point] Heather [Mitchell]

have a link. The three of us [Brunton, Stiles and Winchell] have a link.

I think that’s really important.”

The trio has played together since eighth grade, although it wasn’t

always easy.

And Stiles and Brunton have known each other since they were infants.

Winchell and Stiles both are headed for L.A. Valley College after

graduation, but Brunton probably will be heading elsewhere.

So there’s pressure on the Falcons -- and especially on the nine

seniors on the active roster.

Their unapologetic goal all season, even in the wake of losing

talented hole/set Laura Claessens to a broken nose, has been to reach the

CIF finals on Saturday at Long Beach’s Belmont Plaza -- in all

probability against national power Bell Gardens.

And not to relive the feeling of losing in the semifinals -- what they

agree was the biggest disappointment of their careers next to losing the

Pacific League championship to Glendale as sophomores.

But if the Falcons can keep it loose today, they could be returning to

Belmont Plaza in pursuit of a CIF water polo championship to go with last

season’s CIF swimming title that many of them -- including Stiles and

Winchell -- helped earn.

And what could be more fun?

“I think that’s one of the keys to the team’s success,” CV Coach Peter

Kim said. “They have fun.”