LA CRESCENTA — For the boys' water polo teams from Crescenta Valley High and Pasadena Poly, meeting up in the CIF playoffs has become as much an annual rite of fall as the turning of the leaves in recent seasons.
The top-seeded Falcons and the third-seeded Panthers are set to reprise their burgeoning rivalry when they meet in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs at 7:30 p.m. today at Mount San Antonio College.
"We're always excited to play any game, but now that it's a big game, the semifinals of CIF, we're really excited to play," said Falcons senior hole/set Alan Dearman, who was a part of the CV team that was eliminated in last year's semifinals by Rio Mesa. "[The Panthers] always play us really hard. We're excited to play them, we like playing them. We both know each other really well, so it should be a good game."
Crescenta Valley and Poly have met in the playoffs — both teams competed in Division VI until this season — in three of the last four years with the Falcons holding a distinct advantage in postseason play, despite many of the games being close.
The Falcons have beaten the Panthers twice in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2009 and in the semifinals in 2008, the year Crescenta Valley won the Division VI title.
And while players and coaches describe the rivalry as respectful and friendly, as athletes from both squads play on the same area club teams during the offseason, it's definitely become a heated one.
"It's one of the biggest rivalries of the season," said Falcons goalkeeper Rane Colvin, who was a key player in both of the last playoff meetings with the Panthers. "We just know each other really well."
Crescenta Valley won the Pacific League title for the third year in a row and enters with a 25-4 record. Poly, the Prep League champion, has amassed an impressive 21-3 record, but two of their losses came at the hands of the Falcons
"These guys know that result means nothing during the playoffs," said Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju, whose team beat Poly, 9-6, at Poly on Sept. 21 and again in the Oxnard Tournament on Oct. 16, 8-6. "We might have beaten them twice, but we're still gearing up our game and we can still get better."
Because of the two regular-season meetings, the Falcons have a pretty good idea of what the Panthers will bring today. Led by veteran Coach Ryan Katsuyama, Poly boasts standout hole/set Henry Pray, the team's top scorer, and driver Graham Nesbit, as well as emerging sophomore hole/set Spencer Rogers.
"We've got to definitely shut down Henry and Graham," Colvin said. "Those are two of their biggest guns."
Crescenta Valley counters with arguably the best team speed in the division, as well as one of its most effective defenses, and a collection of proficient scorers led by Dearman, Jack Snyder and Louis Wojciechowski.
"We need to play strong defense and come out hard on the offensive side, as well," Dearman said. "We just need to play strong in all facets of the game."
The other semifinal matchup, between No. 2 seed la Serna and fourth-seeded Bonita begins at 6 p.m. at Mt. SAC. The championship match is set for 11:40 a.m. on Saturday at William Woolett, Jr. Center.