The clear favorite to win the Pacific League girls' water polo tournament for the third year in a row is Crescenta Valley High.
The Falcons aren't getting ahead of themselves, though, as the remaining top four teams in league — Burroughs, Pasadena and Glendale (in that order) — still hold title hopes.
Regular-season wins count for a point in the final league standings, but a first-place finish in the tournament, which opens Tuesday at Burbank High, is worth seven points. Second, third and fourth-place finishes yield six, five and four points, respectively.
All season long CV Coach Pete Loporchio has been doing what he can to make sure his squad focuses on themselves, not the opposition, and it's no different leading into the tournament.
"Whenever the girls ask, 'How good is this team?' I usually respond with 'How good are we?' That's what we need to concern ourselves with and that's been our concern," said Loporchio, whose team is tied for third place in the latest CIF Southern Section Division V poll with Redlands East Valley. "We focus on what we can and can't do and rely on that regardless of who we play."
Loporchio threw his team a curveball in practice on Wednesday and had his reserves wear fins while competing against the starters.
"We worked on transition defense where we have to keep up with [the reserves] while they have fins on," Loporchio said. "It definitely challenges them. We throw different things at them to keep them challenged and keep them focused."
The No. 1-seeded Falcons (27-0, 6-0 in league) open up tournament play against fourth-seeded Glendale (11-8, 3-3) at 5:30 p.m. CV defeated the Nitros, 15-7, last time they met Jan. 19.
"CV is a fantastic team, they've been winning all year long," Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook said. "It's going to take the game of our season to beat them, but with this group, it's not an automatic win for CV. We played a pretty good game against them last week and I think we can still play better."
The Falcons' solid defense led by Breanna Lawton, the goal tending of Gabriel Isacson and a balanced offense figure to give Glendale all it can handle again.
"The trademark of this team is we have eight different scorers," said Loporchio, listing off players like Sabrina Hatzer, Stefanie Loporchio, Shannon Hovanesian and others. "There have been so many different characters and scenarios that have carried us through games. ... We have eight different offensive weapons that create a lot of matchup problems for teams."
Glendale and CV are at the opposite ends of the spectrum as well. The Falcons are on a high after pulling off an improbable, 13-12, overtime victory over La Serna Thursday. The Nitros, ranked eighth in Division V, are coming off a tough loss to Pasadena, 8-5, Wednesday that determined the league tournament's third seed.
"It's tough going into our league tournament [coming off a loss]," Holbrook said. "You always want to be peaking at the end of the season, but I think that we've got a tough enough group and enough senior players on the team that we can rebound from this and play well in the league championship."
Burroughs, the tournament's second seed and the seventh-ranked team in Division V, shares CV's "one game at a time" approach.
The Indians (18-3, 5-1) will square off with third-seeded Pasadena (4-2 in league) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after Burroughs pulled out the 9-7 victory over the Bulldogs Jan. 15 behind a match-high five goals from senior driver Sam Buliavac.
"Right now our focus is getting past Pasadena again," Burroughs Coach Danny Garcia said. "We know we beat them the first time, but we know this is a new game."
Pasadena Coach Jennie Jacobsen-Huse is counting on that.
"We're very excited about going into [the] league [tournament]," Huse said. "We know we can do well.
"The last time we played [Burroughs] our defense wasn't quite where it is now and our offense was a little bit stagnant."
Garcia wants his team to spread its offense around in the tournament, knowing opposing defenses will be tempted to zone in on his primary offensive threat, Buliavac.
"Offensively, we know they'll be running crash on us and double teaming and triple teaming," Garcia said. "We are working on different things to include everybody."
Each coach also sees the league tournament as a chance to build some momentum for the CIF playoffs.
"We want to place well in league so when we go into CIF we are seeded high so we can make it to the quarterfinals and semifinals," Garcia said.