Crescenta Valley gets defensive

PASADENA β€” Defense has always been the focal point of Crescenta Valley High's boys' water polo success.

Thursday afternoon's performance was a tribute to that and a masterpiece unto itself.

Having relinquished an early one-goal deficit, Crescenta Valley finally got its offense going, while its defense was simply unrelenting in holding Hoover scoreless over the final 26 minutes 28 seconds of a statement-making 13-1 Pacific League victory at Pasadena City College.

Just as impressive as holding Hoover to one goal was holding the Tornadoes' Hakop Kaplanyan, the reigning All-Area Boys' Water Polo Player of the Year after scoring a state record 229 goals last season, without a score.

"The No. 1 defensive game plan was to shut down Hakop," said Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju, whose team marked Kaplanyan with All-Area standout Alan Dearman, but always dropped a double-team down when Kaplanyan gained possession. "[Kaplanyan's] a quality goal scorer and a great player."

Kaplanyan had five goals in last season's 15-9 loss to CV. But this time around, a David Pogossian goal off a Falcons deflection with 5:28 left in the opening period was all the offense Hoover (7-9, 3-1 in league) could muster against Crescenta Valley (13-4, 3-0), the No. 1-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division V.

"We were super happy," said Dearman of the defensive effort. "Hakop's an extremely good player, so to be able to hold him and his team to just one goal for the whole game, to be able to accomplish that as a team is amazing."

After the first period, though, it was still anybody's match with the Falcons holding a precarious 2-1 goal on the strength of a pair of Josh Chi assists to Jack Snyder and Robby Ruzicka.

While Hoover's defense was holding strong, CV's execution also lacked, as a Louis Wojciechowski shot was saved by Pogossian after the Falcons bypassed a slew of chances to take a shot on an exposed cage after Tornadoes goalie Sevada Khodaverdi drew an ejection. On the Falcons' ensuing possession, an easy lob by Snyder hit the crossbar.

"Their goalie was definitely aggressive and it paid off for them," said Sakonju of Khodaverdi, who had three saves and five steals in three periods. "He really threw off our counter-attack."

Nonetheless, the Falcons' offense eventually came around as did its counter.

"Coming into the game, we were focused on defense cause they're a power offense," said Dearman, who had a match-high four goals and an assist. "We knew if we shut them down our offense would come."

Goalie Rane Colvin added an assist to go with seven steals and five saves. Ruzicka added three goals, Andrew DeJong had two and a pair of assists, Chi had a goal and three assists and Rusty Blakey had a goal and two assists for the Falcons, the defending league champs.

"We're a fast team and as much as we can, we try to establish the counter," Dearman said. "We just had to establish the pass."

A DeJong-to-Dearman hookup on a man-advantage got the ball rolling offensively for the Falcons in the second quarter, as they scored inside the period's first 30 seconds and teamed up for another score at 5:32 before Blakey capitalized on another man-advantage score.

Finally, in the third period, CV exploded for six goals to put the match to bed.

"That was a little more lopsided than I would've thought," Hoover Coach Ara Oganesyan said of the 12-goal loss. "You gotta give credit to CV.

"Nobody's held us to one goal in three years. I definitely have to give a lot credit to Rane and what he did. I don't think anybody's held Hakop scoreless and they did that, too."

Crescenta Valley, which turned in one of its best defensive performances on the heels of a 17-14 loss to Cerritos on Friday, now moves forward for an impending showdown with Glendale on Tuesday as its next league conquest.

Hoover, meanwhile, will face Burroughs on Tuesday.

"We go to the drawing board and start refining," Oganesyan said. "The guys did stick to the game plan. We just gotta go in there and keep practicing. The season's not over."

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