Title is just the first step

There was no celebration for La Cañada Highs boys' water polo team after its 16-4 victory against San Marino, a win that earned them the Rio Hondo League title.

The Spartans (18-5, 7-0 in league) are more concerned with winning a CIF Southern Section championship.

"I tell the kids to take it one game at a time," Coach German Lopez said. "The first goal this year was to win league, and we've accomplished that. Now we go on to our next goal of winning CIF, one game at a time."

Last year was the first time in six years that La Cañada didn't win the league championship. Lopez looked to right the ship this year.

"I just wanted to reestablish our dominance in league this year, and I think we pretty much did," Lopez said. "It's important to win these games because it's just a stepping stone into what the big picture is."

La Cañada easily handled San Marino on its way to the playoffs. The Spartans had five unanswered goals in the first five minutes of the game, closing out the first quarter 6-1.

The Titans managed to score a lone goal a quarter, as both Spartans goalkeepers split time in the net. Reed Shankwiler started and blocked five shots and Wolfie Paulson filled in midway through the third quarter, notching six saves.

The real difference in the game was the Spartans' suffocating defense, which forced 12 shots wide of the cage, 17 turnovers and multiple easy shots for their goalkeepers. San Marino was held in check along the perimeter, unable to get bodies down low in front, or even near the goalie.

"Our emphasis this whole summer was our team defense," Lopez said. "It isn't an individual defense — it's a team defense. Everyone knows how to shift and everyone moves to the right spot and we basically give up the worst shot and our goalies are money on them."

Seemingly taking their foot off the gas, La Cañada scored once in the next quarter, finishing the second quarter, 7-2.

"Second quarter you kind of saw what happened, we kicked back and just kind of went into cruise control," Lopez said. "Games like this are kind of frustrating," Lopez said. "I want them to get ready for CIF, but it doesn't help when you're dominating teams like this."

The Spartans offense picked it up in the third quarter with four goals, and tallied five more in the fourth quarter.

It was a balanced offense output for La Cañada, with eight players scoring. Justin Lee had a team-high four goals and Robert Loakes and Bo Mattix both found the net three times.

"The last six games we've had at least five or six different guys scoring; it's tough to stop a team like that," Lopez said. "We're not a one-dimensional team where we rely on just Jack Depew, Justin or Bo — everyone contributes to the offense."

Last week, the Spartans looked to get in playoff form by playing quality teams in the Hank Vellecamp Tournament. They finished ninth in the 20-team field.

La Cañada also got to play four ranked teams last week.

The Spartans also faced Damien, the No. 1 ranked team in their division on Friday in the tournament's quarterfinals. The locals lost, 14-12.

"What I'm thinking about right now is championships — that's my goal right now," Lee said. "As long as we make the championship game all the season and all the hard work won't be in vain."

The road to the championship for La Cañada will likely come through its defense.

"Defense is what will carry us through the championships," Lee said.

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