The La Cañada High boys' water polo team dug itself a hole it couldn't swim out of in its first home match of the season Tuesday against visiting Harvard-Westlake at Pasadena City College.
The Spartans surrendered four unanswered goals in the first five minutes of the match. They ended up making it a close contest, but couldn't win, as they fell, 12-10, in their first big test of the season.
The Spartans went on to score four goals in the last two minutes of the first period, but were unable to close the deficit as the Wolverines answered with four goals of their own.
"I wasn't too happy with our execution in the first period," Spartans Coach German Lopez said. "Our offense got a little stagnant because we relied too much on our inside game and we just didn't have it."
Coming into the second period down, 8-4, Lopez pulled his senior goalkeeper, Reed Shankwiler, and put junior Wolfie Paulson in the net. The change gave La Cañada a boost that allowed the team to trim the deficit.
"Our goalie change made a difference," Lopez said. "Wolfie Paulson stepped up and had some good blocks for us."
Lopez made adjustments on both offense and defense as well, running counterattacks and transitioning from a zone to a crash defense. La Cañada started swarming the ball, but had difficulty scoring on the turnovers it created.
"Harvard-Westlake is a solid team," Lopez said. "They don't really have any weaknesses out there, so you kind of have to pick your poison."
La Cañada's effectively ran counterattacks and saw its offense start to come alive in the second period as it connected on outlet passes deep into its offensive zone, leading to easy scores.
Seniors Jack Depew and Justin Lee carried the majority of the offensive load for the Spartans, as Depew scored four times and Lee chipped in three goals.
"Justin Lee was able to get some goals from the perimeter, even though he's more of a post-up person," Lopez said. "He played really well out there and you could tell he really wanted to win."
Junior Bo Mattix scored two goals and senior Robert Loakes contributed one.
"We went with a smaller lineup and got some counterattack goals in the second period to get our offense going," Lopez said.
Depew provided that spark, scoring three of the team's four goals in the second period.
Whenever the Spartans started getting momentum on their side, the Wolverines responded with a goal of their own to keep their opponent at arm's length. Harvard-Westlake notched three more goals in the second to keep an 11-8 lead.
It looked like La Cañada was going to turn an ugly start into a win as it entered the third period with two consecutive goals to close the deficit to 11-10. But Harvard-Westlake pushed back out to a 12-10 lead with a goal.
That was all the Wolverines would need, as the Spartans came up on empty on five consecutive offensive trips, missing on three shot attempts and committing two turnovers in the last 1:40. That allowed the Wolverines to hold on to the ball and kill time in the final minutes.
"This was our first game against a good opponent and we realized we have stuff we still need to work on," Lopez said. "We just got to stick with the game plan and execute."