Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo ready to defend its title

LA CRESCENTA — From championship aspirations to the pursuit of building up a program, the goals and desires of the five local girls’ water polo teams beginning the season anew span the gamut for Crescenta Valley High, Flintridge Prep, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Glendale and Hoover.

The view from the penthouse was a memorable one for Crescenta Valley and then first-year coach Brent Danna, who helped guide his team to a CIF Southern Section Division V championship, the first such title in school history.

“We had a special group of girls last year who were ready to get us over the hump,” Danna said. “While we have some returners, this won’t be the same squad as last year.”

The Falcons (33-2) graduated the All-Area Player of the Year in senior goalie Gabriel Isacson, who tallied 147 saves during the season, including 16 in the Falcons’ 10-5 win over Riverside Poly in the title game, along with four other seniors.

One of the unexpected losses, however, was that of utility player Shannon Hovanesian, who led the Falcons in every major statistic with 81 goals, 106 steals and 90 assists. The Cal State Northridge-bound senior informed Danna that she would not be returning this season for personal reasons.

“That’s a big loss obviously, but that doesn’t change what our goals are, which are to win league and repeat,” Danna said. “What we did last year was special, but we have a chance to do something even more special in winning back to back.”

The Falcons have six returners from last year, including All-Area first-team senior two-meter attacker Elissa Arnold (80 goals, 72 steals and 38 assists), All-Area first-team senior two-meter defender Ashley Taylor (65 goals, 50 steals and 30 assists) and sophomore driver Audrey Nelson.

Perhaps two of the more underrated returners back are junior Any Aghakianian and senior Lynley Fernandez, who turned in critical postseason minutes last year.

“If you look at last year and our record, we were blowing out teams and I don’t think that’s going to happen as much this year,” Danna said. “In fact, I think you’re going to have teams that remembered last year and are going to give us their best.

“I think that’s a good thing, though, people treating us like the Yankees or Lakers. That just shows how strong this program is.”

Speaking of championships, Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook is coming off leading the Nitros boys’ program to its first title.

As for the girls, they finished 11-12 last season and 5-3 in league for third place in the Pacific League before losing to Redlands East Valley, 18-3, in the Division V first round.

“This girls had a strong year last year and they should be stronger this year,” Holbrook said. “When you look at this team, we’re going to be led by a strong defense and will have a chance at league.”

While Holbrook has been working with the boys’ team, the girls have been working during the summer with assistant Casey Sripramong, a former Nitros standout who shined at the University of Redlands.

Holbrook and Sripramong will count on two seniors in Naira Sarkian and Melanie Aghazarian and juniors Vehik Golabi and Rima Gasparian.

On defense, junior goalie Shushanik Gabrielyan also returns and has help from fellow defender Laura Thomas.

For the first time in a while, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is enjoying stability for the first time in a while as coach Carlos Ponce for returns for year No. 2.

“I know the team went through a coaching change the last three years before I took over, so I wanted to put us in a different direction for once and stay,” Ponce said. “Last year, the girls simply got tired of losing and played very well.”

The Tologs enjoyed the most wins of any city team in finishing with a 12-14 record and a 4-6 mark in league, which was good for fourth in the strong Mission League.

“We went on a nice run last year and were really competitive,” Ponce said. “This year, we’re looking to move from just being competitive to reaching the playoffs.”

To do so, Flintridge Sacred Heart will need to either need bump league champion Harvard-Westlake, Louisville or Sherman Oaks Notre Dame out of the postseason picture.

That task appears difficult given the graduation of senior driver Hannah Walleck, a Mission League first-team selection who led her squad with 93 goals and 49 assists. Also gone is senior driver Anna Porter, a league second-teamer who tallied 63 goals.

The cupboard is far from bare, however, for Ponce, whose 10-player squad has three returning seniors, led by goalie Elizabeth Hinkley.

“What I like most about Elizabeth is that’s she a great leader in and out of the water,” Ponce said. “She has the ability to take us to the next level.”

Senior hole/set defender Devin Aubert returns and will be an asset to Hinkley as her 5-foot-11 frame will be tough to get around.

Sixteen of the total 21 players within the water polo program are sophomores or freshmen and Ponce believes that some will make contributions to varsity, including hole/set Mary Farley, two-meter defender Electra Williams and driver Madeline Dulcich.

As with Flintridge Sacred Heart, Flintridge Prep is also hoping to outproduce the 2012-2013 season.

All that would take, however, is a win, as the Rebels are poised to rebound from an 0-16 campaign last year.

“Our philosophy the last few years has been to build a foundation for this program,” Rebels Coach Ryan Goto said. “I think our situation is different than others because of the vast differences in experience. We have girls that know the game of water polo well and others who are just barely learning how to swim.”

Flintridge Prep will field 11 players on this year’s roster, nine of which are returners.

Winger Erin Dennis is expected to lead the way as the senior has earned her share of acclaim.

“She brings the type of leadership that we need out in the pool,” Goto said. “I’m really excited to have her back.”

Drivers Arin Phillips (senior) and Hayley Purvis (sophomore) are expected to carry the bulk of the offensive load, while sophomore Alex Tutwiler will join Dennis on the wings.

“I can sit here and talk about the playoffs or league titles, but I have to be fair to the girls and be realistic,” Goto said. “We have zero club players on this team. So, with that our goal is to grow and progress throughout the year. I still have expectations to be competitive, but growth is most important to me.”

Like Flintridge Prep, Hoover is hoping for a few wins and a breakthrough season.

The Tornadoes finished 0-12 last season and 0-7 in league.

Yet, the good news for coach Kevin Witt is that his squad welcomes back 11 players.

“Our philosophy is the same. We’re going to get it right and always work on getting better,” Witt said. “We also want to prevent goals and make teams work against us.”

Witt has senior keeper Jasmine Trinidad back as well as senior captain Palye Karananoughian, the team’s top driver.

Besides the duo, Witt has three sophomores and a junior who he believes will compete for a starting spot.

“At this point for us, we’re working on chemistry,” Witt said. “We’ve got six weeks until league starts and we’ll see how we do.”

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