Making a speedy transition

In search of new prospects last spring, Louis Wojciechowski followed the riches of competition that only Southern California could offer. Six months later, its Crescenta Valley's water polo program that has struck gold.

Fresh off claiming a state championship in the 100-yard backstroke at the end of his sophomore year at Brophy College Prep, Wojciechowski had seemingly reached the pinnacle of high school swimming in his native Scottsdale, Ariz.

Another calling was already pulling him across the state line, however, as Wojciechowski says the opportunity to play high school water polo played a factor in his family's decision to move to La Crescenta in May.

"It's a little different because it's not all focused on you, you have other people helping you out," says Wojciechowski, a junior driver, whose home state does not feature water polo as a sanctioned high school sport. "I actually enjoy water polo as a team game rather than just like individual swimming."

Landing on a talent-rich team in the Falcons that already looked poised to get back to the CIF Southern Section finals in Division V after winning it all in Division VI in 2008, Wojciechowski would appear to have found an ideal situation.

And, in turn, the Falcons now have a versatile piece that may be just what they needed to return to the top of CIF in November after reaching the semifinals last year.

With the range of movement his lanky 6-foot-4 frame affords and raw offensive skills that are becoming more refined game by game, Wojciechowski has become a central part of Crescenta Valley's offense, tallying 45 goals through Tuesday's Pacific League match against Glendale.

By nature of his elite swimming speed, Wojciechowski has become the first choice to handle sprints β€” Coach Jan Sakonju says he's won every sprint but one this year β€” and he's tailor made for the speed-based defensive philosophy that Falcons teams have typically been built around.

"He fits in perfectly with the speed and the swimming ability, for sure," Sakonju says. "Offensively, he's very good and every game he gets better at defense. Our defense depends on players being able to swim and double-team and because he's so fast he can pretty much position himself where he needs to be with just one or two strokes."

With the Pacific League championship tournament and CIF playoffs drawing near, the Falcons are rolling, 17-4 overall and ranked No. 1 in Division V, while off to 5-0 start in defense of their league crown.

And while Crescenta Valley is a program already accustomed to winning, with Wojciechowski's arrival, the rich have essentially gotten richer.

"It's had a huge impact. He's a really talented player and he's extremely fast," says Falcons goalkeeper Rane Colvin, who also plays on the same Rose Bowl Aquatics team as Wojciechowski. "He knows a lot about the game already and he's just fit in really well."

A swimmer since age 5, Wojciechowski took up water polo several years ago, but with club water polo only available on a seasonal basis, he never really had the chance to flourish in the sport.

But, as his high school swimming star rose, he became a prominent figure in the close-knit club and top-level prep swimming community.

So it was that Crescenta Valley's own resident swimming prodigy, sophomore Division I 200-individual medley champion Young Tae Seo, happened to get word that Wojciechowski was coming to town last spring. The news quickly spread around the aquatics program.

"We were really excited," Colvin says. "We were hoping he would he would come to CV and we were pretty psyched when we heard he would come."

Wojciechowski says adjusting to his new environment over the summer wasn't difficult and that he quickly felt at home on the water polo team.

"It was pretty easy," Wojciechowski says of assimilating into his new community and team. "I [played club water polo at] Rose Bowl [Aquatics] over the summer, so I met a bunch of people and made a bunch of friends fast.

"It's a lot different playing year-round. It's a lot better. It's gone pretty good and I'm enjoying it so far."

But Wojciechowski did have somewhat of a learning curve getting up to speed with varsity water polo, particularly given the Falcons' grueling nonleague schedule to open the season, which included stops in the Thousand Oaks and Oxnard tournaments and matchups with top teams like former Division VI nemesis Rio Mesa.

Despite those early challenges, and likely in many ways because of them, Wojciechowski quickly brought his abilities up to par with his athletic potential.

"It did take him a little while [to get up to speed with varsity]," Sakonju said. "He did play club [water polo], but one of my assistant coaches described him as a JV player in a varsity body, where he has an understanding for the game, but he just doesn't have that experience.

"With each game he's, of course, gaining more experience and he gets better, he's understanding the defense more and becoming less hesitant. Where he is today versus where he was over the summer, although he had a good skill set to begin with, he's much further along."

Wojciechowski has been helping the Falcons make quick work of league competition and was a big factor in a 14-8 win over Glendale, scoring three goals and keying the Falcons' speedy defense and counter-attack.

And the Falcons are counting on Wojciechowski being that much more of a weapon the next time they see the top teams in the division β€” in the playoffs. The competition will be tougher, but the pools will be larger, allowing Wojciechowski's swimming speed to really come into play.

"By nature of his swimming speed, as we play in these bigger pools, that just gives him a major, major advantage over everybody else," says Sakonju, whose team was already one of the fastest in the division with members of CV's Division II runner-up swimming team such as Josh Chi and Andrew De Jong in the starting lineup. "He's definitely a threat on the counter-attack.

"When he drives, he just gets so far ahead of everybody, he's hard to keep up with. Right away, he's got half a body's length or a body's length lead on people, so he's gonna be wide open. Plus, he's so tall we can make a high pass to him that only he is able to catch. He's got such a long reach he can get to the ball a lot faster than other players."

It's a bit of a surreal jump for Wojciechowski, going from summer club water polo to a starting role with one of the top high school teams in the area, but one he's handling with the calm of an athlete used to competing on the big stage.

"I know they won CIF two years ago and it's fun to be on a team that's ranked No. 1 in the division," Wojciechowski says. "I kind of enjoy being the No. 1 team and having pressure on you every game and looking forward to winning CIF.

"I'm looking forward to just playing my best and doing whatever helps the team the most. Winning CIF is my main goal."

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