GLENDALE — There's sure to be a heated battle for supremacy in Pacific League boys' water polo, with multiple-time defending champion Crescenta Valley High looking as strong as ever and Glendale and Hoover hoping to further close the gap with the dynastic Falcons after serving notice with strong campaigns last year.
And, once the dust settles after the league rumble, the same teams may very well find themselves among the last few standing when its time to crown a champion in CIF Southern Section Division V.
Going into the upcoming season, Crescenta Valley is ranked No. 1 in the division, with the Nitros ranked third and the Tornadoes holding the No. 10 ranking after the two former squads reached the semifinals and the latter advanced to the quarterfinals last season while in Division VI.
Loaded with seniors and supercharged with speed from its Division II runner-up swimming team, Crescenta Valley has a well-rounded team led by seniors Rane Colvin, an All-CIF goalkeeper and the reigning Pacific League Most Valuable Player, and Alan Dearman, an All-CIF hole/set. The Falcons are looking to win their second CIF title in three years after falling to Rio Mesa in the semis last season.
"I think it would be fair to say this is the fastest team in the division because all of them are just top, top-level swimmers," said Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju, who also counts swimming standouts Josh Chi, Andrew De Jong and transfer Louis Wojciechowski among his weapons. "Alan is also one of the best hole/sets in the division, Rane is arguably one of the best, if not the best, goalies in the division, so we've got all the right pieces, we just need to put it together."
After battling the Falcons to an overtime loss in the championship game of the Pacific League tournament last season, the Nitros also saw their bid to reach the CIF finals fall short in overtime against eventual champion Webb.
And, while most of that team is back, led by All-CIF hole/set Gor Asryan, second-year Coach Forest Holbrook has some younger players entering the fold to push his starters and provide more depth.
"We have a number of sophomores who came up who are going to be challenging last year's starters for starting positions," Holbrook said. "Our team is not the same team as last year. We've got two or three new players who came in that I can see challenging some of our older players for their starting spots."
For starters, the Nitros will have two reliable goalkeepers at their disposal and have added some dependable outside shooters to stretch opposing defenses.
"We're gonna have three guys we can bring off the bench that, from what I've seen, I feel very comfortable putting them in in any game that we'll play and give our big guns a break," Holbrook said. "It looks like a pretty solid lineup."
Hoover, which also saw its season ended by Webb last year in the quarters, returns the most impressive individual offensive force in the division and quite likely the section in junior utility Hakop Kaplanyan, an All-CIF member and reigning All-Area Player of the Year.
Kaplanyan is fresh off setting a state record for single-season scoring with 229 goals, but third-year Coach Ara Oganesyan has made better balance and more intensive training his top offseason priorities.
"We're stepping away from depending on one or two people so much," Oganesyan said. "We haven't even really touched a ball yet. [We're working on] conditioning, being focused, having a goal, not being shortsighted and kind of trusting my system that I've put into place this year."
Hoover also returns just about every significant player from its 2009 campaign and, with the explosive Kaplanyan back for another round, could be a dark horse CIF contender.
"I look forward to it, it's going to be an interesting season," Oganesyan said. "Hopefully, we'll adapt well and have a successful season, but our goal is to win CIF and hopefully do the necessary things to succeed in that goal."
Over at Flintridge Prep, longtime teacher Dan Hare becomes the Rebels' fifth coach in as many years, but with better numbers and some new players with a club polo background on board, he hopes to see an uptick in the team's competitiveness this year.
"We've got a lot of young kids in the program, so we're pretty optimistic about how things will shake out," Hare said. "We've got a young team, but we're real excited with the turnout and the outlook."