WHITTIER — Perhaps the area’s most successful girls’ water polo four-year run came to end Wednesday afternoon.
PHOTOS: Crescenta Valley vs. Warren girls' water polo semifinals
Defending CIF Southern Section Division V girls’ water polo champion Crescenta Valley High came up one game short of defending its title in falling to Warren, 16-9, in the semifinals at Whittier College.
With the victory, the second-seeded Bears (20-9), the San Gabriel Valley League champion, earned a trip to the divisional championship game Saturday at Irvine’s William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center.
As for the five-time defending Pacific League champions, who advanced to four straight semifinals and captured the program’s elusive first championship last season, third-seeded Crescent Valley capped its season with a 24-7 record.
“Hey, I told the girls we just got beat by a better team and we can live with that,” said Falcons second-year Coach Brent Danna, whose career postseason record dropped to 6-1. “This has been a special group and a special run.
“We’ve won five consecutive league titles and I’m not sure how many people thought we’d get here. Remember, we only had two returning starters from last year’s team, so this is impressive as far as I’m concerned.”
Warren iced the contest with a 5-0 run that spanned big portions of both the third and fourth quarters.
Crescenta Valley pulled within 10-6 on a six-on-five goal from utility player Audrey Taylor (team-high five goals and two steals) created off an assist from two-meter attacker Ashley Taylor and a kick-out of the Bears’ Stepany Velazquez with 4:47 remaining in the third.
The Bears responded to the Falcons’ charge with stout play on offense and defense, which included a goal from Kayla Casas (game-high nine goals and four steals) and a buzzer-beating score from Melanie Weyers that gave Warren a 12-6 lead after three quarters.
In between the scores, the Bears responded with two keys stops during Falcons’ man-advantage opportunities, one coming via a field block and the other on a steal from Destiny Hernandez.
“From the beginning of the season, we knew that we’d probably see Crescenta Valley in the playoffs and have been preparing since then,” Bears co-Coach Josie Cordero said. “We have nothing but respect for the defending champions and knew that if we wanted to win ourselves, we would need to play like they did last year.”
Warren then opened the fourth quarter with three straight goals, with the last coming from Casas with 1:59 remaining that put the Bears comfortably ahead, 15-6.
“They were a very physical team and it made it difficult to move the ball,” said Falcons senior Elissa Arnold, a member of those four straight Falcons semifinal squads. “They were able to pass, especially inside and we had trouble dealing with them.”
Audrey Taylor eventually ended the Falcons’ 10-minute-and-four-second scoring drought with a goal off an assist from Ani Aghakhanian (three steals) with 1:47 remaining to cut the Falcons’ deficit to 15-7.
The Falcons scored two more goals from Aghakhanian and from Audrey Taylor off a steal and assist from Arnold (one goal, three assists and two steals) to complete their scoring.
“This is all a bonus for me,” said Ashley Taylor, who finished with one goal, three assists and two steals. “To get to another semifinal definitely tallies up on my awesomeness meter.
“We played a really good team and you have to congratulate them and hope they win a championship.”
Despite being outshot, 9-3, in the first quarter, the Falcons only trailed, 3-2, behind goals from Natalie Krebsbach and Arnold and four saves from goalie Mackenzie Drewe, who teamed with Tiffany Duarte to finish with 11 total stops.
Crescenta Valley stayed within striking distance, pulling within 5-4 on a goal from Audrey Taylor with 3:19 left in the first half before Warren closed out with a pivotal 5-0 spurt before the quarter’s close in taking a 9-4 lead into the break.
“I’m proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished,” said Danna, who was flanked by former coach Pete Loporchio and assistant Chris Axelgard. “What we’ve created is really special and we can’t wait to come back next year and take another crack at a championship.”