Defense propels La Cañada High boys’ water polo into second round

PASADENA — Thanks to a stifling defense, the La Cañada High boys' water polo team is on to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs.

The Spartans opened the postseason by holding visiting Atascadero without a goal for the game's first 10 minutes in a 15-5 victory in Tuesday afternoon's first round at Pasadena City College.

The victory vaults second-seeded Rio Hondo League champion La Cañada (18-8) into Thursday's second round at Tri-Valley League runner-up Carpinteria (10-5), which defeated J.W. North on Tuesday, 19-6.

"I didn't realize we had held them without a goal for so long," La Cañada first-year Coach Josh Rodriguez said. "Our awareness today was on point and it was just finding the ball and being ready for their overpasses. I thought [goalie] Reed [Fundter] was aware to come and steal those passes."

Though the Spartans missed the playoffs for the first time this century in 2015, they hardly looked nervous Tuesday.

La Cañada opened the game with a goal on a six-on-five chance in the first quarter and closed the frame with a score from sophomore Alec Abrahamian (two goals and two steals) from the corner with two seconds left to take a 5-0 advantage after one.

That lead eventually swelled to 7-0 after a goal from freshman George Avakian (two goals and two steals) with 3:28 left in the second quarter.

Atascadero (14-14) finally found the back of the net on a goal from Kyle Warren off an assist from goalie James Fisher with 3:15 remaining.

The Greyhounds then scored their second goal from Warren, who finished with a team-high three goals, to pull within 7-2 with 2:16 left.

La Cañada responded with a six-on-five goal from senior Wyatt Lowe (two goals) followed by a spectacular, if unexpected goal from Luke Stefan.

The senior stole a pass near his team's goal, turned and rocketed a shot that spanned three-quarters' of the pool and went past Atascadero's keeper for a score with 30 seconds left that gave the Spartans a 9-2 lead going into halftime.

"I saw that the goalie was talking to his coach," said Stefan, who finished with a game-high four goals, three assists and two steals. "He wasn't even the facing the goal, so I figured I'd shoot. It paid off."

Though Atascadero won the third quarter, 3-2, to pull within 11-5, the Greyhounds were shut out in the fourth, 4-0, for the 15-5 final.

"We knew that their big kid was [Warren] and that they were going to feed him," said La Cañada senior Toby Chung, when asked the reason behind his team's success. "Our main objective was to front him and shut him down. I think we did a good job of that. We just let everyone else shoot at our goalie and we knew we'd do OK."

Perhaps La Cañada's Robert Louk had the most memorable score of the fourth quarter when he buried a five-meter penalty shot with 2:12 left.

The La Cañada goalie duo of Fundter and Jack Applebaum combined for 11 saves and four steals.

Chung added two goals for La Cañada.