PASADENA — In what could easily have been a prequel to a matchup in the upcoming CIF-Southern Section Division V girls’ water polo playoffs, Redlands East Valley took on Crescenta Valley at high noon Saturday in the pool at Pasadena City College.
Both teams clearly viewed the nonleague contest with an eye to the upcoming Division V playoffs, or the “real season,” as CV Coach Brent Danna put it, because, if the rankings and the yet-to-be-released brackets hold, the top-ranked Falcons will be matching up with the No. 4-ranked Wildcats again, but this time with a berth in the finals on the line.
However, first thing was first on Saturday as the Falcons took an early lead, made adjustments the rest of the way, stayed strong until the end and came away with a 7-4 nonleague victory over a Redlands Valley East team that last Saturday had knocked off Los Osos, which was then the top-ranked team in Division III.
“[CV] made a good defensive adjustment in the second half, so hopefully we’ll be able to see them again and make some adjustments,” Wildcats Coach Troy Delmonico said. “That’s why I was really pleased they allowed us to play the game at this time. I think going into CIF it’s good for both of us.”
After a couple minutes without a shot attempt in the first quarter, Crescenta Valley (25-2) scored goals on its first two shots and put in three goals total in a 1:58 span starting at the 4:32 mark. Elissa Arnold started the run with a mid-range shot from the right side. With 3:29 to go, driver Katie Benson swam the ball in from the top and fired a shot that went off Wildcats goalie Alexis Hollinrake’s arm into the side netting. Less than a minute later, Ashley Taylor made it 3-0 with a lob shot over the netminder’s left shoulder from the deep middle of the offensive zone.
Redlands East Valley (15-7) got on the board with 1:58 left in the opening frame, when sophomore Maddy Wieseler fired a shot into the lower right corner of the net. Crescenta Valley quickly answered with a goal on a skip shot by Breana Lawton 16 seconds after the Wieseler score and the hosts led 4-1 after the first quarter.
The next quarter belonged to REV senior Mikayla Vessey, who scored the first two goals of the second. The first came at the 5:45 mark from in close and the second came 1:04 later on a mid-range shot that redirected off a Falcons defender’s arm and past goalie Gabriel Isacson.
Taylor, who shared team-high honors in goals with Arnold at two, scored her second goal 1:34 before the break off an assist by Arnold to give the Falcons some breathing room, going into halftime up, 5-3.
The early success the Falcons found against Hollinrake was not emblematic of the extraordinary effort the Wildcats goalkeeper gave her team to keep them close. The senior had seven saves in the first half. She finished with 14 saves, and few to none were easy.
“[Hollinrake] is the 16-and-under cadet national team goalie,” Delmonico said. “She allows us to do a number of things that normally we would not be able to do.”
In the third quarter, Crescenta Valley was held scoreless. The Falcons peppered Hollinrake with nine shots of which she saved four. In addition, the Falcons had three hit the frame of the goal, including a failed penalty shot by Benson with less than a minute left. In contrast, REV had four total shots in the third. However, Vessey scored the only goal of the period 40 seconds in on a pass from Allie Wieseler and CV led, 5-4, going into the final quarter.
The Crescenta Valley defense adjusted to Vessey’s dynamic offensive skills and limited her as the second half progressed as the Falcons pushed her farther and farther away from the goal mouth. In general, the CV defense bogged down the Wildcats attack by swarming to the ball.
“We learned we can win by a larger margin by fixing our mistakes that we had during the game,” Benson, whose defense shut down Wieseler after the break, said.
The Falcons shut out REV in the fourth quarter and overall CV outshot the visitors, 27-15. The only two goals of the final quarter came from the Falcons. Arnold scored her second goal of the contest when she scored on CV’s first shot for an assist from Shannon Hovanesian.
“The way [REV] was running their zone, I saw that when we set up on a single side ... their defense would break down and stepping and shooting that one goal would break down their defense,” Arnold said of her fourth-quarter score.
The final goal came with 2:25 left on a shot from the left side of the pool by Audrey Taylor.
“It’s definitely the conditioning that was able to keep us going,” Danna said. “That’s what I told the girls: You know, you’ve got to play all four quarters. The conditioning will kick in in the second half. You’ve got to weather that first-half storm and come back at them just strong in the second half and that’s what we did.”
Both teams return next to their respective leagues to finish out the regular season, but both clearly are excited about the upcoming CIF playoffs.
“I thought it was really great,” Ashley Taylor said of the chance to play the Wildcats, “because honestly being so close to CIF and we’re going to see them in the semifinals ... I think it’s good because we’ve never played them [before today].”