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Girls' Water Polo Preview: New coach brings new style for La Cañada

Girls' Water Polo Preview: New coach brings new style for La Cañada
Goalkeeper Carolyne Stern is a key returner for the La Cañada High girls' water polo team. (File Photo)

Adhering to the old adage that defense wins games, that’s what new La Cañada High girls’ water polo coach Robert Eccheverria has planned for the three-time defending Rio Hondo League champions this season.

“It’s not about how many goals we can score, it’s about how many goals we can limit the opposing teams,” Eccheverria said. “That’s something I’m going to take pride in.”

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For Flintridge Prep, it will look to make it back to the CIF Southern Section playoffs, while Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy gets a former coach back in hopes of improving from a year ago.

Here is a look at the teams.

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LA CAÑADA

The Spartans, who finished 18-10 and 8-0 in the Rio Hondo League, are going through their second season under a new head coach after Ian Davidson succeeded his wife, Nicki, last season.

Both prior coaches saw a successful period with program, which included a first Division II quarterfinal appearance in team history.

To ensure success in his first year, the coach hopes his talented team will buy in to his philosophy.

“You win big games if you know you have the best defensive team,” Eccheverria said. “The offense will come, but if it’s a close game, and you know you have the best goalie and the best defense in the league, you know your chances are good and all it takes is one goal to win.”

But for many of the Spartans, they don’t have to adapt much under their new coach. Most of the team plays for Eccheverria’s Rose Bowl Aquatics squad and know his tactics and expectations already, so the transition has been smooth.

“It’s the main reason why I’m here,” Eccheverria said. “I know their coach left and it’s their last year so I wanted to make their last year a positive experience.”

And, to put the icing on the cake, Eccheverria has experience in the Rio Hondo League.

“Our goal is to win league and win it with dominant fashion,” Eccheverria said. “A lot of coaches try to score the most goals possible, but my philosophy has always been to be the best defensive team.”

The first-year coach previously held the coaching position at South Pasadena before leaving in 2013, and, fittingly, will face his old Tigers squad as league starts Jan. 5.

The Spartans return a senior-heavy team and should be packed with an ample amount of talent, skill and experience that saw the squad reach new heights last season with a quarterfinal berth that ultimately ended with an 11-9 loss to top-seed San Clemente.

The La Cañada senior trio of Carolyne Stern, Genevieve Fraipont and Madison Solares are focal points in Eccheverria’s defense.

Stern, who had committed to USC, returns not only as the Spartans’ goalkeeper, but as Rio Hondo Player of the Year. In addition, she earned All-CIF first-team recognition, compiling 227 saves and 27 assists last season.

“She is the best goalie in the area,” Eccheverria said. “She continues to improve and get better and a good goalie to have in big games.”

Fraipont’s All-CIF second-team nod as a utility player came with a team-high 52 goals and 21 assists last season, and will be the engine of the Spartans’ defense alongside hole/guard Solares, who’s All-CIF third-team section came after tallying 48 goals and 41-assists.

“[Fraipont] is going to have a breakout season for us because she’s playing a different role,” Eccheverria said. “She’s going to be used everywhere and she has the physicality and the mental capacity to make that happen.”

All three All-CIF selections have played under Eccheverria at Rose Bowl.

“She can do it all — great attacker, great scorer — but what I really love about her is that she’s a very smart defender,” said Eccheverria of Solares, who committed to UC San Diego. “We don’t have a really big team this year, so you need to have smart defenders.”

First-team all-league pick Tess Fundtner (26 goals and 31 assists) should add to the mix.

“We need to be able to play four quarters without any substitutions,” Eccheverria said. “That’s the mindset we have to have. Obviously, we’ll have players we can sub in, but we have to go with that mindset to play four quarters at a high level on the defensive end and on the transition end.

“If we can be the best conditioned team, we’ll be able to transition against any opponent, even the bigger, stronger teams.”

Eccheverria also has seniors Julia Nicholls and Rayne Lopez returning as utility players, while the sophomore pair of Shelby Hovanesian and Meadow Solares will look to add depth.

FLINTRIDGE PREP

Last season proved to be a pleasant surprise for the young Rebels, who finished third in the Prep League and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Flintridge Prep (9-11, 7-5) lost to La Mirada in a Division VII wild-card match after finishing behind Pasadena Poly and Mayfield in league.

Getting a taste of playoff experience has got the Rebels expanding their goals.

“They now have an idea of what it’s like to participate in a playoff match and they want to get back there and maybe go further,” said Flintridge Prep coach Andrew Phillips, whose team will stay in Division VII. “We’ll be pretty young again with just two seniors, but we have some people we’ve brought up from the junior varsity team who we think will be able to contribute.”

Flintridge Prep brings back senior hole/set Danielle Maxwell, senior Lara Friedman and sophomore driver Natalie Kaplanyan. Kaplanyan finished with 65 goals and 60 steals to earn All-Area and all-league first-team honors. Maxwell and Friedman received all-league nods.

FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART ACADEMY

Not much went right last season for Flintridge Sacred Heart, which finished 3-13, 2-6 in the Mission League and missed the playoffs.

However, the Tologs have brought back former coach Carlos Ponce, who stepped aside from coaching last season to launch his own security business. Ponce coached the Tologs from 2012-17, leading them to their last playoff appearance in 2016. Ponce takes over for Savannah Simmons and served as an assistant for the St. Francis boys’ water polo team in the fall while also coaching the St. Francis junior varsity squad.

“It’s great to be back and I really miss teaching and coaching,” Ponce said. “The one thing I love about coaching is that you can always learn something new.

“Things are looking OK and we’re in a rebuilding phase and that’s welcomed. We want to restructure the program and have our players understand our expectations.”

The Tologs, who have moved to Division VI after being in Division V last season, will be led by senior two-meter Amanda Ramirez, senior hole/set Skylar Bower, junior driver Brianna Layseca and sophomore goalkeeper Ellie Lund.

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