PASADENA — Less than a year ago, the Riverside Martin Luther King High boys’ water polo team ended a wonderful season for La Cañada High by virtue of a victory at the CIF Southern Section Division III championships at Irvine’s William Woolett Jr. Aquatic Center.
This time, with considerably less on the line and a slew of new faces joining members from last November’s game, the Division III top-ranked Wolves showed that they’re still the team to beat after a 13-10 win over the third-ranked Spartans at Pasadena City College on Saturday afternoon.
“This was my first time against them, so I didn’t know that much of what to expect other than that King is the top team in the division,” said Spartans Coach Christian Flores, a former CIF Southern Section Division III champion player with Montebello High. “They’re big, obviously physical and we’re going to have to hit the weight room because this was a strong team.”
While La Cañada (9-5) was never out of Saturday’s contest, the Spartans struggled to pressure the Wolves (10-3).
In fact, La Cañada never sliced its deficit to under two goals outside of the first quarter and trailed, 12-8, after a score from junior Lucas Ritter (four goals) off an assist from senior Shane Marek with 5:05 remaining in the game.
The Spartans responded with a goal from Peter Loakes with 4:54 left thanks to an assist from Reed Buck. However, the Wolves again answered back with a goal from junior Mohan Gooneratne (assist from Kyle Christian) with 4:05 to again give King a four-goal advantage.
Even down by its largest deficit of the contest, the Spartans had their chances, beginning when Matt Olson was fouled right in front of the goal by King’s Spencer Dickson, which led to a five-meter penalty.
Olson, who led his team with six goals and one steal, connected on the penalty shot with 2:57 remaining and then forced a turnover on King’s next possession.
Unfortunately for La Cañada, there was no spark after the score and steal as the Spartans were denied on two six-on-five chances over the last two minutes plus and failed to score again.
“This team was definitely bigger than us, so our focus was more on defense and that might have hurt us on offense,” said Loakes, who added two goals, two steals and one assist. “I feel we could have played smarter on defense and capitalized on our counters.”
Early on, the contest took the appearance of a blowout waiting to happen as the Wolves opened with three straight goals in racing out to a 3-0 advantage with 3:46 left in the first.
The Spartans fought back, though, with a man-advantage goal from Buck and an Olson score off a great cross from Loakes with 2:46 left in the first.
Yet, just as the Spartans climbed back within striking distance, King closed the quarter by notching two of the period’s last three scores in taking a 5-3 advantage.
From that point, the Spartans never inched any closer than two goals despite six saves and four steals from senior goalie Jeff Lee.
The defeat marked the second consecutive weekend the Spartans lost to a top flight divisional opponent, as the squad was defeated at No. 2 Mira Costa, 12-6, on Oct. 12.
However, at least one player noted a difference between both setbacks.
“I think when we more prepared for this game than for Mira Costa. We were a little more fired up for this game,” said Olson, whose team was short-handed without injured Ben Whitefield, who is out for the season with a knee injury.” We learned from our game against Mira Costa to come out stronger and we did and that’s the positive.”