Falcons set in reload mode

Creativity is something that's played a large role in helping the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team build a strong foundation.

Prolific goal scorers, along with mobile defenders and goalkeepers, come and go. Having the ability to constantly bring up future standout players from its fertile feeder programs has helped Crescenta Valley remain atop the Pacific League and allowed it to venture deep into the playoffs.

"We tell our players at all levels that it's not only about this year, but also next year and the years beyond that," said Crescenta Valley Coach Pete Loporchio, whose team won the league championship and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division V semifinals last season. "Our junior varsity team went 24-1 last year and it's 68-3 over the last three years, so you want to prevent lapses that lead to a drop off [at the varsity level]."

Crescenta Valley lost several key players to graduation, including Kim Fraisse, a two-time All-Area Girls' Water Polo Player of the Year. Also gone are driver Christine Cho and hole/guard Adrienne Ingalla, both of whom were selected to the All-Area first team.

Replacing Fraisse, a utility player who scored 278 goals over the past three seasons and an All-CIF first-team pick, certainly doesn't figure to be easy.

"She will certainly be hard to replace, and that's where we have to be creative," said Loporchio, whose team is ranked fourth in the Division V preseason poll behind defending champion Temescal Canyon, Bonita and Redlands East Valley. "We can't replace her solely.

"We will have to find a way to generate goals. It might take two or maybe even three players to equal what Kim did on her own."

There are a core of players who might be suitable to fit that role. Among those in line are utility players Sabrina Hatzer and Shannon Hovanesian and Breanna Lawton, all of whom secured All-Area accolades last season.

Of course, defending the league title will be one of the main goals for the Falcons, though Loporchio said there are plenty of quality teams ready to try knocking them off their throne.

"Pasadena and Glendale I know will be good," said Loporchio, who was named the All-Area Coach of the Year after leading the Falcons to a 28-win season. "For us, it's going to be about maintaining that level of intensity throughout the entire regular season and right into the playoffs."

Glendale will look to challenge for the league title under Coach Forest Holbrook. The Nitros finished second in league last season and are ranked eighth in the division preseason poll.

Glendale will have plenty of seniors returning in its lineup, including goalkeeper Mariquita Lopez-Engelman and utility player Desiree Ivett Garcia Solano. Lopez-Engelman led the Nitros to the quarterfinals last season with some stellar efforts and Garcia Solano registered 41 goals last season. Both were named to the All-Area second team.

Joining the duo will be senior utility players Veronica Sobakian, Claudia Somma and Venus Payandeh and senior driver Jacqueline Jones.

"We are excited about the season," said Holbrook, who piloted the school's boys' team to a quarterfinal appearance in the Division V playoffs in the fall. "This year, we seem to be more balanced.

"We don't have one standout player, so we are going to rely on everybody being a playmaker."

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Flintridge Prep and Hoover will have new coaches on board. The three teams combined to win one game last season, signaling a switch in the coaching ranks.

Andrea Artukovich will begin her head coaching job at Flintridge Sacred Heart, which didn't win a match last season. She comes to the Tologs with impeccable credentials, having starred at Long Beach Wilson before helping Golden West College win the 2009 state championship in women's water polo.

Artukovich also played overseas in 2010 for Mlabost, a Croatian club team.

"It's going to be a fun season," Artukovich said. "I just want them to stay calm and do the best they can.

"I just want to see them try to get better."

Flintridge Sacred Heart will be led by senior driver Eva Dulcich, junior driver Hannah Walleck, junior driver Kelsey Gorman and sophomore driver Elizabeth Hinckley.

Flintridge Prep will hand the coaching responsibilities to Ryan Goto. The Rebels won only one match last season.

It will have several returners, including senior driver Suzanna Tan, who was named to the All-Area second team last season. Tan will be joined by senior driver Katrina Boyd and sophomore hole/set Erin Dennis.

Finding a new cast of players to surround the talents of Tan, Boyd and Dennis will be the top priority for Goto.

"We are expecting a huge improvement," Goto said. "We have a lot of new people, some who are new to the sport.

"So, we are going to have to look up to the returners to help guide us."

Hoover, which didn't win a match last season, will also have a new coach in Kevin Witt. Witt was a former area standout at Glendale, who then went on to star at Loyola Marymount before representing the United States in international competition.

Witt guided the school's boys' program to the semifinals for the first time in the program's history in the fall. Trying to accomplish the same feat on the girls' side might be more complicated.

"We are only concerned about improving and becoming more of a well-rounded team," Witt said. "The first thing to do will be focusing on defense."

Hoover's key players figure to be senior drivers Pamela Minasian and Perni Movsesian and junior utility player Lianna Khachikyan.

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