Tornadoes, Panthers ready to tangle

One team has participated in the CIF Southern Section Division V championship match. The other would like to get there for the first time.

During the last couple of days, the Pasadena Poly and Hoover High boys' water polo teams have begun their respective courses of action.

Now, they will look to see how they match up in the heat of battle when the teams meet in a semifinal match at 6 p.m. today at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut.

Hoover (17-6) advanced to tonight's match with a 16-15 upset quarterfinal win against second-seeded Palm Desert in overtime on Saturday and will participate in the semifinals for the first time in the program's history. Third-seeded Pasadena Poly (25-2), which competed in the championship match last season and lost to La Serna, returned to the semis after registering a 12-8 overtime quarterfinal road victory against Palm Springs on Saturday.

"We have guys who have been playing their best water polo at the end of the year," said Hoover first-year Coach Kevin Witt, whose team finished second in the Pacific League. "They are very confident and have settled into their roles very well.

"We don't know much about Poly, but we know they have a good team. Everything is difficult when you get this far. Poly has year-round [players], so you know they are well-conditioned and well-prepared. We have to be equally prepared."

Hoover and Pasadena Poly met in the playoffs last season, as Pasadena Poly earned a 14-8 first-round home win.

The Panthers, who won the Prep League championship before recording a 15-6 opening-round win against Los Altos, used their experience to overcome a 4-0 first-quarter deficit against Palm Springs before prevailing in overtime.

"We stayed composed being down, 4-0," said Pasadena Poly Coach Ryan Katsuyama, who received a team-high five goals from Henry Pray to topple Palm Springs. "We knew that there was a lot of time left.

"Experience played a big factor because when you are down, 4-0, on the road, you probably are going to have teams panic. We have a mature team and we preach patience."

Hoover has received two clutch performances from senior utility player Hakop Kaplanyan, the reigning All-Area Boys' Water Polo Player of the Year, to extend its season.

Kaplanyan scored as time expired in regulation to give the Tornadoes a 14-13 first-round win against Walnut. He then scored on a final shot at the buzzer to force overtime before scoring the match-winning goal in overtime to dispatch Palm Desert. He had 10 goals in the match.

"Getting to the semifinals is a huge thing for us," Kaplanyan said. "I was confident I could finish both matches and help our team move on.

"I expect Poly to double-team me. I know [Katsuyama] has been scouting a lot of our matches. I don't know what kind of defense they will throw at me, but my teammates and I have to be there for each other."

Katsuyama said the Panthers will need to focus on Kaplanyan and prevent him from having another stellar performance.

"Stopping Hakop will be the No. 1 thing," Katsuyama said. "We have to make sure we know where he is in the pool at all times.

"We don't want to let him score 10 goals, so we'll try to have multiple guys around him."

The other semifinal match will feature top-seeded Bonita (20-10) against fourth-seeded La Serna (17-14) at 7:30 p.m. at the same site. The championship match will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the William Woollett, Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine.

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