Crescenta Valley girls' water polo looks to finish No. 1

After falling one step short in consecutive years, the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team has earned a trip to the program's first-ever CIF Southern Section Division championship game.

True to form, the Falcons did so impressively with a double-digit win over Redlands East Valley in the Division V semifinals Wednesday at Whittier College. Top-seeded Crescenta Valley will look to win its first-ever CIF title against a highly-decorated No. 2 Riverside Poly squad at Irvine's William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center Saturday at 5 p.m.

“I would definitely think that the last two years are learning experiences for the girls,” first-year CV Coach Brent Danna said of the team's semifinal exits in 2011 and 2012. “It's always nice to get through that because we're going to go up against Riverside Poly and they have a rich tradition of CIF championships.”

The Bears are competing in their fifth CIF championship after they won a trio of Division III titles from 2008-2010 and competed in Division II last year before leaving the Big VIII League in favor of the Inland Valley League this past offseason, according to the Press Enterprise.

“They just jumped from Division II from Division V so they've been playing some stiff competition and have a history of winning in CIF,” Danna said of the Bears. “We have a legacy of league championships, but we don't have a history of CIF championships and that's something we're trying to create. Even though Riverside Poly does have that in their back pocket, we have a group of girls that's determined as hell to win one.”

Much like Crescenta Valley, Riverside Poly looked to be head and shoulders above Division V coming into the semifinals. The Bears opened the tournament with wins over Redlands (16-2) and Lompoc Cabrillo (21-5), but just edged Warren, 8-7, in the semifinals.

The waters remained calm for the Falcons, who have outscored their playoff opponents, 40-14, in the playoffs, when they defeated No. 3 Redlands East Valley, 14-4, in the semis.

Ashley Taylor, CV's leading scorer in the playoffs with 10 goals, admitted it could be a bit of a challenge bouncing back from an emotional semifinals victory.

“Honestly, our team is so great and we all know how to regroup,” she said Wednesday. “We only have one more game, two more practices. It might be a little difficult, but I think we can do it.”

Crescenta Valley did so with the balanced attack its presented all year. Taylor has a team-high 10 goals this postseason, but not far behind is Elissa Arnold (seven goals, six steals), Katie Benson (six goals) and Shannon Hovanesian (four goals, eight steals).

In reality, any Falcon in the pool can score at any given moment in the game.

“It just shows you the total team effort,” Danna said after Wednesday's win, which had three CV players with at least three goals. “No one stuck out out there because every single one of those girls played team water polo. When we play as a team, we're pretty tough to beat.”

Riverside Poly has also reached the championship with a well-rounded attack. Shelby Barkley (nine goals), Paizlee Dreyer (eight) and Keana Eldridge (seven) have led the Bears' offense this postseason. Three other Riverside Poly players also have at least four goals over the last three games.

The Bears also have a quality goalkeeper in Madelynn Knust, who has 24 saves in these playoffs, to match up with CV's Gabriel Isacson, who has 17 saves in limited minutes.

While Danna acknowledged Riverside Poly is a formidable team, he said the main goal now is keeping his team grounded coming into the final chapter of what's already been a historic season.

“They're doing a good job of staying on the ground, but at the same time they don't want to give the opponent so much kudos,” Danna said. “We're trying to walk a fine line of cockiness, confidence and respecting the opponent without over respecting them as some unbeatable team. It's kind of a psychological game more than anything right now.”

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