PASADENA — A year ago, there was little question both the Pasadena Poly and South Pasadena High girls’ water polo programs were two of the stronger teams within the Pasadena area.
As both squads kicked off the 2012-13 season, the question of whether each would be able to maintain a similar level of excellence was still open.
What was clear Tuesday afternoon is that the host Panthers, top-ranked in Division VI, took advantage of both their opportunities and the absence of Tigers standout Devin Grab in securing a 15-6 nonleague victory.
“The first game of the season is always a learning experience. For us, it was just a matter of playing with a new starting group,” said Pasadena Poly Coach Ryan Katsuyama, whose last action was leading the Panthers boys’ team to a Division V championship on Nov. 17. “It would have been nice to have played South Pasadena with their best player, Devin Grab, but we’ll take a win anyway we can get it.”
The Panthers, the Division VI runner-up a season ago, adroitly took advantage of every break in converting five six-on-five opportunities without fail and two additional five-meter penalty shots.
After South Pasadena, ranked fourth in Division IV, pulled within a goal at 5-4 after a score from Liza Echeverria set up on an assist from Tigers goalie Clarque De Young with 6:01 left, the Panthers created space by winning the rest of the quarter, 5-1, in going up, 10-5.
Poly increased its lead to two goals on a score from Christina McCarthy before a Tigers kickout led to another goal, this from Catherine Finney off an assist from Lauren Lantry with 3:59 left, in which the Panthers went up, 7-4.
Lantry’s goal was the second of four consecutive for Poly, with the streak’s final goal coming on another six-on-five conversion on the second and final score from Finney with 2:24 remaining that propelled the Panthers to a 9-4 advantage.
While South Pasadena broke the streak on a goal from America Hall, off an assist from Danielle Krieger with 1:23 remaining, Poly delivered a somewhat deflating goal when Allie Hodgen, who led the Panthers with four goals and two assists, scored thanks to an assist from Lindsey Kelleher with .7 seconds remaining to give the Panthers a 10-5 lead heading into the fourth.
“In this part of the season, it’s about learning how to play together and putting some shots away,” South Pasadena Coach Robert Echeverria said. “Overall, I was pretty pleased with our team defense in certain situations, but we got fatigued and ended up falling apart there.”
The defending Rio Hondo League champion Tigers then saw their comeback bid fizzle when junior Liza Echeverria, who had scored four of the team’s five goals to that point, picked up her third exclusion at the 6:29 mark in the fourth, while fouling Kelleher within two meters of goal.
Kelleher scored her five-meter chance as the Tigers fell behind, 11-5, and were unable to recover without an ejected Echeverria or Grab (151 goals last season), who is a member of the USA women’s youth national team playing in the FINA Youth World Championships in Australia.
Perhaps the Panthers’ biggest offensive player Tuesday was Allison Woo, who scored three goals and added five assists, including three in the third quarter.
“We started off a little slow since many of us haven’t spent too much time together,” Woo said. “But we started to press and really stopped them on defense.”