Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo relies on defense for title win over Glendale

BURBANK — Defense has long been a cornerstone for Crescenta Valley High girls’ water polo success.

Thus, on Thursday, as a lack of offensive execution and production drew the ire of Falcons Coach Brent Danna, it was defensive dominance throughout that still afforded Crescenta Valley a comfortable 13-1 victory against Glendale in the Pacific League Tournament final at Burbank High to wrap up the league crown.

“Everything’s defense,” said Crescenta Valley’s Elissa Arnold, who had four goals and four steals. “We’ve definitely had an emphasis on defense since my freshman year.”

PHOTOS: Defensive dominance lands Crescenta Valley girls' water polo victory

Crescenta Valley (21-6, 8-0 in league), ranked third in CIF Southern Section Division V, wrapped up its fifth straight league title at the expense of ninth-ranked Glendale (15-7, 6-2), though both teams will learn their playoff fates on Sunday, when postseason pairings are released by the CIF office. The Falcons will set out in hopes of defending their Division V title, which they won last season under Danna for the program’s first plaque.

Glendale played stellar defensively in the early going, as well, trailing just 1-0 after a quarter of play, but the Falcons were able to surge ahead with a four-goal second quarter and held the Nitros scoreless until a Melanie Aghazarian goal with 4:35 to go in the game.

“Crescenta Valley’s one of the top teams in our division and we expected a really tough game,” said Nitros co-Coach Forest Holbrook, who left shortly after the game to accept, along with his team, a CIF championship ring after leading the school’s boys’ team to its first-ever CIF title in the fall. “We couldn’t be more proud of our girls.

“There wasn’t any moment where the girls stopped playing hard.”

But the Falcons began to surge ahead in the second stanza when Ashley Taylor (four goals, five steals) scored with 3:54 left in the half to break a Falcons scoring drought and begin an offensive rhythm.

Audrey Taylor (three goals) lobbed in a goal with 2:03 to go, Arnold scored off an Ashley Taylor assist 31 seconds later and Audrey Taylor scored off an Arnold pass with 27 ticks left to take a 5-0 halftime edge.

Then came another four goals in the third quarter as the Falcons put the game out of reach.

“Third quarter is our quarter,” Arnold said. “We train for that third-quarter push.”

Still, as pleased as Danna was to have accomplished the goal of wrapping up an outright league title, he still wants four quarters of solid play from his team.

“I’m just waiting for the girls to play four quarters of water polo,” Danna said. “On paper, you’re like, ‘We won by 12 goals,’ but then you look at all the opportunities we missed.”

Ani Aghakanian and Lynley Fernandez also scored goals for the Falcons, while goalie Makenzie Drewe had five saves in a first-half shutout and goalie Tiffany Duarte had two saves in the second half.

Still, the Falcons took their fair share of shots that missed badly, though they opened the second quarter with shots that hit the sidebar on consecutive possessions. They also went 0 for four on man-advantage opportunities.

So, after Danna quickly gave his glasses to Holbrook for safe keeping and took the ceremonial celebration plunge with his team into the pool, he still had a message.

“That’s what I told the girls when we were swimming around is, ‘I’m tough on you because I have high expectations for you,’” Danna said. “Winning league is awesome and we take such pride and tradition in winning league titles at CV, but there’s still an expectation of play.”

And going forth into the CIF playoffs, which begin next week after the Falcons conclude the regular season Friday at La Serna, the Falcons know it will only get more arduous.

For Glendale, despite the loss, the Nitros are plenty motivated going forward.

“This is the best team we’ve had at Glendale in my five years,” Holbrook said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my girls and we’re excited for CIF.”

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