Year of firsts for Brent Danna, CIF championship Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team

The top five high school coaches from the 2012-13 season were voted on by the Glendale News-Press sports department.

1 Brent Danna, Crescenta Valley girls’ water polo and swimming — Shortly after he arrived to take over the budding Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo team, Brent Danna believed the Falcons had the talent to reach and possibly win the CIF Southern Section Division V championship.

Crescenta Valley had advanced to the semifinals in each of the previous two seasons under coach Pete Loporchio, who resigned his post to take over the coaching reins at L.A. Valley College. When Danna arrived at Crescenta Valley, he outlined a set of season goals with the incoming group that they never strayed from throughout the season.

“The players gained a lot of invaluable experience having made the semifinals the prior two seasons,” said Danna, who was selected the All-Area Girls’ Water Polo Coach of the Year and is now the News-Press Coach of the Year. “They had a wealth of playoff experience, so they knew what to expect.”

The Falcons (32-2) spent the bulk of the season ranked No. 1 in the division poll and easily won the Pacific League championship without a blemish.

They then marched through the playoffs with a fabulous run, capped by a 10-5 victory against Riverside Poly in the championship match.

“It’s hard to explain still when you look at the program’s history and all the league titles,” Danna said. “It’s just a special feeling to have won it all.”

The Falcons were led by goalkeeper Gabriel Isacson, who was named the All-Area Girls’ Water Polo Player of the Year. Among those who also made valuable contributions were Elissa Arnold, Katie Benson, Shannon Hovanesian, Ashley Taylor and Breana Lawton, all of whom earned All-Area accolades.

In swimming, Crescenta Valley made some strides with a nucleus of talent that featured Heather MacDougall, Iva Icheva, Jesse Gabor and Tiare Coker. The Falcons won the Pacific League championship for the sixth season in a row before finishing fifth in the CIF Southern Section Division II final.

2 Antonio Harrison, Flintridge Prep football — Harrison and the Rebels enjoyed a turnaround season, finishing 6-5 and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2008. Flintridge Prep found itself on the other end of the spectrum after finishing 1-9 in 2011. The Rebels had to forfeit two games in 2011 because they didn’t have enough players to field a team due to a rash of injuries.

Harrison didn’t want the Rebels to be in a similar position in 2012. Harrison recruited additional players from campus and stockpiled talent at numerous positions, leading to Flintridge Prep enjoying its first winning season since 2007.

Harrison kept a positive attitude throughout the season, something that rubbed off on his players each week. The reigning All-Area Football Coach of the Year also turned to a rigorous conditioning program that helped keep the players in shape.

Flintridge Prep’s watershed moment came when it posted a 34-28 overtime road victory against Ribet Academy in a CIF Southern Section Northeast Division opening-round contest. The Rebels tied the game in the final minute of regulation to send the contest into overtime.

In the extra session, wide receiver Kareem Ismail caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Clayton Weirick to complete the comeback. The Rebels won their first postseason contest since 2003, when they captured a CIF Southern Section Division XIII championship.

The Rebels were more than just Xs and Os, though, as the team recently won a CIF State Academic Team Championship, boasting a 3.58 GPA — the best of any football team in California.

3 Shawn Zargarian, Crescenta Valley boys’ basketball — The Falcons advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division I-A semifinals and earned a trip to the state tournament in 2012. After losing four starters to graduation, not many expected a facsimile for the 2012-13 campaign.

That forced Zargarian to find the next wave of talent and the right lineup combinations to help the Falcons.

Zargarian got the most out of his new starters, as the Falcons went 23-9, 11-3 in the Pacific League for second place. Crescenta Valley then advanced to the semifinals before making another trip to the state tournament. That led to Zargarian being named All-Area Boys' Basketball Coach of the Year for the second straight season.

The fourth-seeded Falcons reached the semifinals before suffering a 68-38 loss against top-seeded El Toro on the road. As a reward for a stellar regular season and playoff run, Crescenta Valley qualified for the CIF State Division I Tournament before seeing its season close with an 89-74 road loss against Crenshaw.

Among those who excelled for the Falcons were Cole Currie, the lone returning starter who was named the All-Area Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year, and Nick Springer.

4 Guillermo Gonzalez, Flintridge Prep baseball — Talk about a major turnaround for Gonzalez, who took over the program from Buzz Cook and reached historic success in his first season as skipper. Things seemed to instantly click for Gonzalez and the Rebels right from the start.

Flintridge Prep shared the Prep League championship with Pasadena Poly and Webb for the first time since 1997. As if that wasn’t enough, Flintridge Prep (18-9, 9-3 in league) made plenty of noise in the CIF Southern Section Division VI postseason. Flintridge Prep posted a 14-6 opening-round home win against Santa Paula to clinch its first playoff victory since 1999.

While that would have been plenty of cause to celebrate, the Rebels didn’t stop there. Flintridge Prep made the long journey to Kern Valley for a second-round game and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to post a 6-3 win. In a quarterfinal game against visiting Crean Lutheran, Flintridge Prep, trailed, 3-0, going into the bottom of the seventh. Flintridge Prep scored four runs in the inning to earn an improbable 4-3 victory and advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1960.

The Rebels’ season came to a close with a 12-4 home defeat against top-seeded Desert Christian Academy.

5 (tie) Forest Holbrook, Glendale boys’ and girls’ water polo and swimming — Things have progressed nicely for both Glendale water polo teams since Holbrook took over in 2009. In 2012, the boys’ water polo team won its second straight undefeated Pacific League championship and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division V championship match for the first time in the program’s history. Though the top-seeded Nitros finished runner-up against third-seeded Pasadena Poly after a 12-10 defeat, that didn’t detract from what the Nitros (22-6, 8-0 in league) accomplished with athletes such as Martin Chatalyan, Arman Momdzhyan and David Papazian leading the charge.

Glendale advanced to the program's first CIF Southern Section championship match and the first CIF-SS championship final for any Glendale sports program since 1989.

The girls’ water polo team took third in the Pacific League before falling in the first round of the Division V playoffs. Biyouregh Boghozian, Maddie Corpuz and Naira Sarkian stood out for the Nitros (12-11, 5-3).

5 (tie) Sean Beattie, Flintridge Prep girls’ and boys’ volleyball — Beattie turned in another stellar job on the sidelines, leading Flintridge Prep’s boys’ team to an undefeated Prep League championship a year after coming up short of the playoffs. It marked the first time in three seasons that the Rebels won a league crown with high-caliber players such as Chadd Cosse, Kareem Ismail, Mike Lii, Kurt Kocazik, Tyler Weakland and Dante Fregoso. Flintridge Prep went 19-8, 8-0 in league and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals before falling on the road to powerhouse Cathedral.

Honorable mention: Kevin Kiyomura and Jayme Kiyomura-Chan, Flintridge Prep girls’ basketball; Jan Sakonju, Crescenta Valley boys’ water polo and swimming.

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