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Girls' Water Polo Preview: Crescenta Valley looking to set sail in the Pacific

Girls' Water Polo Preview: Crescenta Valley looking to set sail in the Pacific
The Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team will look to win its 10th straight Pacific League championship despite being without standout senior utility Alex Garas, who is recovering from an injury and will likely miss the first part of the season. (Raul Roa | Staff Photographer)

For nearly a decade, the Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo team has maintained its mastery of the Pacific League. The Falcons have won nine straight league championships and one CIF title over the last nine seasons.

Though Crescenta Valley will be without its top player for at least the first part of this season because of an injury, the Falcons will likely have enough depth to remain the favorite to win league.

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Glendale and Flintridge Prep joined Crescenta Valley in qualifying for the playoffs last season. Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Hoover will look to continue building their programs after missing the playoffs.

Glendale, Hoover and Flintridge Sacred Heart will have new coaches. In addition, the Nitros and Tologs will be in new divisions after the CIF realigned the seven divisions for a third season in a row.

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Here is a closer look at the teams.

CRESCENTA VALLEY

Before attempting to win a 10th straight Pacific League crown, Crescenta Valley suffered a setback when it was learned senior utility Alex Garas, a two-time All-Area Girls’ Water Polo Player of the Year, would miss the first part of the season while recovering from an injury sustained last winter.

Garas, the league co-player of the year last season, finished with 58 goals, 45 assists and 69 steals en route to receiving All-CIF Southern Section Division III first-team and All-Area accolades.

“It’s a huge loss, but we could possibly get her back by the middle of the season,” said Crescenta Valley fifth-year coach Ricky Mulcahey, whose squad lost to Corona Santiago in the first round of the playoffs. “She going through physical therapy and doing work in the pool. She’s such a team player.”

With Garas on the mend, the Falcons (24-5, 8-0 in league in 2017-18) have plenty of other athletes they can turn to in their quest to return to the Division III playoffs.

The Falcons have a quartet that includes senior hole/guard Roxy Jackson-Gain (29 goals last season), junior drivers Hanna Ziccardi (43 goals, 47 steals) and Lexie Kawachi (44 goals, 44 steals) and sophomore utility Katy Ward. Ziccardi and Kawachi picked up All-Area honors last season.

“We’ll try to keep our streak in league going and it’s always a great feeling when you can win your league,” Mulcahey said. “it’s going to come down to teamwork in that we can’t rely on just one player to do it all. We’ll have to spread it out and try to get two or three goals from multiple players.”

GLENDALE

Things will look a bit different for the Nitros. Casey Sripramong stepped down after four seasons as coach and has been replaced by Jazzmyne Urquiza, who served as an assistant at Palisades Charter the past three seasons.

Urquiza begins her first head coaching job and inherits a squad that went 12-13, 3-5 for fourth place in the Pacific League. The Nitros made it to the first round of the Division VI playoffs. Glendale will be in Division V this season after losing several starters to graduation.

“We’re in a bit of a rebuilding stage and that’s fine,” Urquiza said. “it’s a chance to build a new foundation and see some development.

“There’s a lot of raw talent and the players are eager to learn. It will be great to teach them and see them improve.”

Glendale will turn to senior hole/set Amanda Briones, junior utility Jamie Fritz and sophomore utility Marissa Briones. Fritz contributed 56 goals, 52 steals and 30 assists, en route to picking up all-league and All-Area recognition.

FLINTRIDGE PREP

Last season proved to be a pleasant surprise for the young Rebels, who finished third in the Prep League and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Flintridge Prep (9-11, 7-5) lost to La Mirada in a Division VII wild-card match after finishing behind Pasadena Poly and Mayfield in league.

Getting a taste of playoff experience has got the Rebels expanding their goals.

“They now have an idea of what it’s like to participate in a playoff match and they want to get back there and maybe go further,” said Flintridge Prep coach Andrew Phillips, whose team will stay in Division VII. “We’ll be pretty young again with just two seniors, but we have some people we’ve brought up from the junior varsity team who we think will be able to contribute.”

Flintridge Prep brings back senior hole/set Danielle Maxwell, senior Lara Friedman and sophomore driver Natalie Kaplanyan. Kaplanyan finished with 65 goals and 60 steals to earn All-Area and all-league first-team honors. Maxwell and Friedman received all-league nods.

FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART ACADEMY

Not much went right last season for Flintridge Sacred Heart, which finished 3-13, 2-6 in the Mission League and missed the playoffs.

However, the Tologs have brought back former coach Carlos Ponce, who stepped aside from coaching last season to launch his own security business. Ponce coached the Tologs from 2012-17, leading them to their last playoff appearance in 2016. Ponce takes over for Savannah Simmons and served as an assistant for the St. Francis boys’ water polo team in the fall while also coaching the St. Francis junior varsity squad.

“It’s great to be back and I really miss teaching and coaching,” Ponce said. “The one thing I love about coaching is that you can always learn something new.

“Things are looking OK and we’re in a rebuilding phase and that’s welcomed. We want to restructure the program and have our players understand our expectations.”

The Tologs, who have moved to Division VI after being in Division V last season, will be led by senior two-meter Amanda Ramirez, senior hole/set Skylar Bower, junior driver Brianna Layseca and sophomore goalkeeper Ellie Lund.

HOOVER

The Tornadoes usher in a new era after bringing in coach Niki De Leon. De Leon takes over for Briitany Connell and begins her first head coaching venture.

Hoover went 3-11, 1-6 in the Pacific League for last place in 2018.

De Leon will look to reverse course and get the Tornadoes back on track.

“It will be good to have more of a veteran team with six or seven seniors,” De Leon said. “I’m eager to coach and they are excited to learn. It’s a lot to do with just being ready to play.”

Hoover will rely on a group of seniors to pave the way, including utility Mariam Manukyan and drivers Inga Akopyan and Anahit Mirzoyan. Manukyan received all-league honors after posting 24 assists last season.

Hoover will stay in Division VII.

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