BURBANK — As two of the top boys' water polo teams in the Pacific League, Crescenta Valley High and Glendale may very well meet again this season with a league title on the line should both squads advance to the finals of the championship tournament in November.
But on Tuesday afternoon at Burroughs High, the Falcons, who are the top-ranked squad in CIF Southern Section Division V, made it clear they aren't ready to cede their crown to any challenger just yet, using superb goalkeeping and a swift counter-attack to turn a close high-scoring match through the first half into a one-sided affair down the stretch for a 14-8 win.
A balanced scoring effort led by five goals from Jack Snyder and three apiece from Robby Ruzicka and Louis Wojciechowski and 13 saves from goalkeeper Rane Colvin were enough to carry the Falcons (16-4, 4-0 in league) to a 7-2 second-half run and offset a team-high four goals from Nitros hole/set Gor Asryan.
"Crescenta Valley has an excellent hole/set and our game plan was to come out and force the outside shooters to shoot and their outside shooters did an excellent job coming to play today," said Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook, whose team, which is ranked sixth in Division V, fell to 14-6, 3-1 in league. "Crescenta Valley simply came out and executed and we weren't able to handle it."
The Nitros' physical play left some of the Falcons smarting, but in the end mostly hurt Glendale, as Asryan was disqualified from the match with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter for striking Wojchiekowski in the face as the two jostled for position.
"It was brutal, but it was fun," said Wojciechowski, a transfer, who received his initiation into the Glendale-CV rivalry. "[Asryan] was just flinging his arms out and he straight up just punched me."
The ensuing five-meter shot converted by Snyder put the Nitros up by six goals and was the last tally of the match. To make matter worse for the Nitros, it was Asryan's second major ejection of the season, which mandates a two-match suspension under CIF rules.
"As the game goes on, definitely, tensions rise," said Holbrook, who added that he had not had a chance to discuss the incident with Asryan yet. "Gor plays an extremely physical position at hole/set. You're in the middle and usually you're double- and triple-teamed and he takes a lot of abuse in there. …I wasn't able to see the play that well."
Glendale, which got two goals from David Grigorian, also had two ejections in the fourth quarter, in which it was outscored, 3-1, although neither led directly to a Crescenta Valley goal.
Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju said the overall physicality of the match, after which CV standout Alan Dearman said he would need stitches to close a cut on his mouth, probably went beyond what was reflected in the ejection tally.
"In the transition game where everybody's swimming, it's really hard for the officials to see what's going on," Sakonju said. "We rested [Dearman], but he's a tough kid and he didn't want to come out of the game."
The beginning of the match saw Glendale at its best, taking a 3-1 lead early and a 4-3 lead into the second quarter on three Asryan goals.
After CV took a 5-4 lead on two Josh Chi goals inside the first three and a half minutes, the game remained neck and neck until Snyder put the Falcons up, 7-6, with 2.6 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter saw the Falcons really clamp down on the Nitros' shooters, as Colvin notched four big saves to allow his team to get some separation on goals from Wojciechowski, Snyder and Ruzicka. Colvin stopped a point-blank shot on a rapid counter with his head midway through the quarter and made a nice stop on a second attempt by Asryan, who had snatched his own hard carom off the cage but couldn't force the rebound past Colvin.
"Rane is a game-changing player," said Sakonju, who got four more saves from Colvin in the fourth quarter. "When he's on and focused he can definitely throw the momentum off of another team. Gor and the Glendale guys had some really quality shots in the first half and those are really difficult for any goalie to block. In the second half, maybe they were a little tired and that gave him the edge where he could shut them down."