LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Every statistic but goals scored was dominated by the La Cañada High boys' water polo team when it hosted Royal Wednesday. It made for a tense match in the final five minutes when it hosted the ninth-ranked squad out of CIF Southern Section Division II.
La Cañada rose to the occasion when it had to and as it had all game to get just enough stops to pull off a 12-10 victory and improve to 2-0 this season to help solidify La Cañada's spot atop of the Division III poll.
Offense was a bit of a concern for the Spartans, though, as they dominated shots taken, 41-20, but were still held to just 12 goals with 10 shots going off the post.
“We just couldn't put away our shots today, that's what kept the game close as long as it was,” said new La Cañada Coach Devon Borisoff. “We missed probably 15 to 20 point blank shots where they were blocked or off the post. Most of them were hitting the post. If we put some of those away it's a totally different game.”
Spartans senior Symeon Stefan said the team was a little tired from a long week of practices and perhaps carried some nerves into its home opener.
“I think we were tired and I think everyone's a little jittery in the beginning of the season,” said Stefan, who finished with a team-high six goals to go with five steals and an assist. “The nerves have something to do with it, and it's just something we'll work out later on in the year.”
The Spartans absolutely dominated the first half, winning the turnover battle, 17-5, and firing off 22 shots to Royal's eight, but still only held a 5-3 advantage headed into halftime. La Cañada finally put some distance between itself and the Highlanders in the third period, as Spartan Chase Borisoff (two steals, two assists) scored two of his three goals in the seven-minute frame.
Stefan gave La Cañada a five-goal lead with 5:22 to go when he scored his sixth goal of the game following a field block from Alden Geller. Royal's Jesse Camou, who finished with a game-high seven goals, wasn't going to go quietly, though, as he rattled off three goals in two minutes 43 seconds to cut the deficit to two, 12-10, with 2:20 remaining.
Royal (3-3) looked to cut the lead to one when it earned a six-on-five opportunity with 1:40 left, but was kept out of the cage when Spartans junior goalie Jeff Lee, who was playing in his second varsity game, made a nice save on a Camou shot. The Highlanders were unable to score on any of their three man-advantages, as La Cañada’s Peter Loakes (one goal, three steals, two assists) forced steals on Royal’s other two advantages.
“He's been great, over the summer he's really developed into a really good goalie,” Stefan said of Lee, who had eight saves in the game and two in the final quarter. “After last year our concerns were with Wolfie [Paulson] being out of goal, but [Lee's] really come through and I think he is going to be a big part in our success this season.”
Royal got off two more shots in the final 55 seconds but wouldn't score again as one was off target and another was saved by Lee with eight seconds left.
Although the game was closer than Stefan would've liked, he knows it will be something La Cañada can draw upon when the CIF playoffs begin.
“It wasn't supposed to, but in that second half it got really tense,” Stefan said. “I feel like there was a lot more intensity than there should have been. They aren't in our division, though, so it's just a good warmup for the teams we're going to see in our division.”