BURBANK — It was an onus on defense that propelled the Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo team to success all season long and its berth in the championship match of the Pacific League tournament.
But in the rubber match against rival Burbank on Thursday afternoon, it was the Bulldogs defense that proved to be just a bit stronger, as the Falcons fell in their claim to share the league title, losing to Burbank, 7-5.
“Hats off to Burbank, they played a really good game, they had a smothering defense,” said Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio. “It’s the old cliché that defense wins championships and they put the clamps down.”
The Falcons (18-9, 7-1 in league), the fifth-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division IV, were held to just one goal in the final 11:15 of the match by the Bulldogs (19-9, 8-0), the division’s No. 7 team.
“That’s what we worked on the entire season, if we can play good defense, we can stay in any game,” said Burbank Coach Carlos Pelayo, whose team, which defeated CV in the teams’ league meeting, but later lost at a tournament in Oxnard to the Falcons, recorded the first league title in the school’s aquatics history.
For Pelayo, a Crescenta Valley graduate, and the Bulldogs it was a historic win, but for the Falcons, who would’ve forced a shared league title with a win, it was the end of a string of five straight league titles.
While many predicted a changing of the guard with Burbank featuring a senior-laden team and Crescenta Valley featuring no less than nine sophomores at the season’s onset, it did little to lessen the sting for many of the Falcons. Still, Loporchio was plenty happy with the improvement his team showed from the summer to Thursday.
“I wouldn’t trade this team for any other team,” said Loporchio, who also got a tremendous effort out of goalie Sophie Munoz, who had 11 saves. “I think we’ve closed the gap, I think our future’s bright and we have another season starting with the playoffs.”
Who, where and when the Falcons play in the upcoming postseason will be announced on Monday.
On Thursday, just as much as the defense’s umbrella around the Burbank cage paid dividends, so too did the Bulldogs’ ability to draw first blood on offense.
The Falcons played from behind from beginning to end and the Bulldogs scored first in all four periods.
Just 23 seconds into the match, Burbank’s Alex O’Connor scored and, just seven seconds later, Crescenta Valley’s Kim Fraisse answered to make it 1-1.
But the match settled into a defensive battle soon after.
Amberlynn Ullo, one of four players in the match with multiple goals, scored her first with 27 ticks left in the first quarter to give Burbank a 2-1 lead.
Ullo and teammate Arpi Khanpapyan each had two goals, while Crescenta Valley’s Olivia Trimis and Christine Cho also notched a pair of scores.
Cho scored with 2:30 left in the half and Trimis converted a shot from near mid-pool on an off-balance attempt with only 1:46 remaining in the half.
Trimis later gave up a steal to Mary Stepanyan, which led to a one-on-one opportunity, but a hustling Trimis stole the ball back before a shot could be taken right as the buzzer ended the half.
Tied at 3 to start the third period, Burbank once again struck first, with Sara Puranan scoring a man-advantage goal.
Down 5-3, Cho scored off a steal right in front of the Burbank cage to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to a goal with 4:15 to go in the third period.
Cho later lobbed in a shot that officials said Burbank goalie Sarah Tubert reached before it hit the cage. An almost identical scenario occurred not long after, this time with Corinne Ingalla’s shot deflected in, but getting taken out.
Nevertheless, Burbank left notching to chance in the fourth period with Khanpapyan and Stepanyan scoring goals to build their team’s lead to 7-4.
Setback or not, Loporchio believes Thursday already has his team in playoff-mode and ready to move past the loss.
“[The league tournament] kinda gets us ready,” he said. “This brings out the best in both teams.”