Crescenta Valley girls' water polo dominates en route to semifinal win

WHITTIER — It was a play the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team wasn't expecting to run.

The Falcons hadn't run anything like it all season, but when they did — with about four minutes to go in the CIF Southern Section Division V semifinal match with Redlands East Valley — it showed just how in control they were.

On both ends of the pool and in every fashion imaginable, Crescenta Valley bested the Wildcats en route to a 14-4 victory at Whittier College Wednesday to stamp its ticket into the program’s first-ever championship game Saturday.

“You're not supposed to win a semifinals game by 10 goals, and it was 9-0 at one point and time,” first-year Crescenta Valley Coach Brent Danna said. “The girls just came out and played a great game. Sometimes you've just got to shrug your shoulders and say, 'Wow.' It was fun to watch.”

There were two signs of how well the Falcons (30-2) were playing displayed in the game.

First, the Wildcats (23-9) pulled their starting goalie Alexis Hollinrake, who's also the 16-and-under cadet national team goalie, with about 10 minutes left in the game after CV scored the first nine goals of the contest.

Perhaps the most memorable moment came with four minutes to play, after the Wildcats earned a six-on-five opportunity and promptly called a timeout. A few seconds after REV set up its offense, Danna shouted “blue ball” and all five of the Falcons sprinted toward Redland's goal.

“We were up and having a little fun, so we decided to try and make a play,” Danna said. “The girls work so hard all year long, it's fun to be in a position to do something like that.”

The move clearly confused the Wildcats, who then looked to capitalize on the six-on-none. They finally did so on its third shot from Mikayla Vessey after two saves from CV goalie Gabriel Isacson. REV's late tally brought the score to 12-3 and proved to be inconsequential, as the Falcons won by double-digits.

The lopsided victory helped Crescenta Valley exorcise its demons from the last two years, in which it was eliminated by Temescal Canyon a game before the finals in 2012 and 2011 by scores of 9-7 and 10-9, respectively. Overall, it was the program’s fifth semifinal appearance, but first to end with advancement.

“I can't even begin to describe how good it feels,” CV's Breanna Lawton said of advancing to the championship. “It's such a great accomplishment from where we were last year and the past two years. We all wanted it just as bad as we did the last two years, and this year we finally pulled through.”

The Falcons will play Riverside Poly (27-4), which bested Warren, 8-7, Wednesday, in the Division V finale Saturday at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine.

Crescenta Valley first had to go through a familiar foe in REV, a team it just edged by a score of 7-4 on Feb. 2. The Falcons clearly benefited from the familiarity, as they locked down on the Wildcats’ two primary scorers – Vessey (one goal) and Madison Wieseler (no goals) – and kept REV out of an offensive rhythm the entire night.

It took REV 18 minutes and 24 seconds to get on board on an Allison Wieseler score with 2:36 left in the third quarter. By that time, Crescenta Valley was quite comfortable after scoring the first nine goals of the one-sided affair.

“Last time they were out for our guts, they were going to eat us alive, but honestly, our team has jumped to a whole new level; only good things can happen from here,” said Crescenta Valley's Ashley Taylor, who finished with a game-high four goals, four assist and two steals.

CV broke through the Wildcats' defense just about two minutes into the contest when Taylor cashed in a no-look, sweeping shot on a six-on-five and Caitlin Connell assist.

A great diving save from Isacson, who had three blocks in the first frame, led to CV's second goal with 2:55 to play in the first with Taylor feeding Elissa Arnold (two steals) for a quick 2-0 lead.

Taylor and Lawton shined in the first half for the Falcons. Taylor had three of her goals and two of her assists in the first half, while Lawton had a pair of goals and steals in the opening 14 minutes.

Katie Benson also had three goals and two assists in the game for the Falcons, who had seven different goal scorers.

Lawton started a theme for CV when she beat Hollinrake with a high shot just inside the far post off an outlet from Isacson 2:23 into the second quarter.

Three of CV's next four goals came on cross-cage shots with Taylor and Benson each logging one and Lawton adding another of her own. Taylor's third goal of the half came 44 seconds before halftime when she skipped in a five-meter shot to give the Falcons a 7-0 advantage at the break.

“We knew we could get her on high corners, cross passes and a lot of quickness,” Lawton said. “We knew that would be golden for us.”

Redlands committed seven turnovers and had just three shots, none on target, in the second quarter.

The numbers on the Falcons' defensive dominance go on and on. They forced 13 of REV's 22 turnovers in the first half, held it to just one goal on four six-on-five chances in the game and racked up nine saves in the process with Isacson logging seven of them.

Offensively, CV was just as impressive. Seven of its goals came off assists and it cashed in three of its four six-on-fives.

While the Falcons have certainly shrugged off the proverbial monkey on their back, Danna assured it's still too early to say this season's mission has been accomplished.

“The girls have 12 hours to absorb this win,” he said. “Tomorrow we'll look at the game film and start developing a game plan for Riverside Poly, and hopefully finish this great season.

“Our goal is to win CIF, our goal isn't to get to the CIF finals. The girls are happy, they're excited, but they understand they've got one more game.”

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