By Brandon HENSLEY
Still wet from another great performance and standing in the shadows, with the words at times struggling to escape her mouth, Audrey Taylor found enough of them to last a few minutes for a postgame interview.
Dealing with the chills seems to be the only thing Taylor has trouble with when it comes to water polo. The senior driver scored several goals and led her Crescenta Valley Falcons to an 18-3 win over Arcadia High School Tuesday at CVHS.
It was the first girls’ Pacific League match of the season, and it ended the way so many others have for years: a Falcon victory. The CV girls’ pushed their record to 10-1 on the year, dominating the Apaches early and often. Spoiler alert – it looks like the Falcons are on their way to winning their seventh straight league title.
At the forefront of this team is Taylor, who was widely recognized for her play as a junior in 2015. Crescenta Valley went 24-3, and 8-0 in league. Taylor recorded a career-high 98 goals, 42 steals and 34 assists and earned all-league and All-CIF Division IV first-team honors.
This year’s club lost six seniors, but Taylor said she’s been working hard to ensure her team is ready for another run at CIF.
“It’s a different team this year,” she said. “A team goal was to get unified, and that’s a big deal because if you’re not unified you won’t do well.”
The Falcons certainly looked unified on Tuesday. It was 9-0 after one period, and 15-1 at halftime. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Drewe didn’t have much to do in those first 16 minutes, but she did almost throw one in from the length of the pool at the halftime buzzer. Instead, the ball hit the post.
Taylor, who plays club for Rose Bowl Aquatics and has committed to UC Davis, was a freshman on the CV varsity squad when it won the CIF Division V championship. She played big minutes, but she wasn’t the biggest star yet.
“It was so exciting to be part of that team. The whole year was exhilarating. I had never experienced that before,” she said.
In her words, she had to catch up to the ability and intensity of her peers. That team featured notable players Elissa Arnold, Ashley Taylor and Breanna Lawton. Though Taylor has done enough to separate herself in recent seasons, she denies being someone who needs the ball most of the time.
“No, no, I think we all contribute a lot,” she said. “This team is really balanced. We work well together, and everyone is good at knowing when it’s their turn to put the ball away.”
Both Taylor and Head Coach Ricky Mulcahey praised Esma Dollaku, Brynn Fernandez and freshman Alexandra Garas as key members who have stepped up. Garas showed off a nifty no-look, behind-the-back score several meters in front of the goal on Tuesday.
You can call Taylor a lightning rod for the team, though, a sort of spark when everyone needs it. That may be surprising upon first look. Taylor is 5’1”, and she said with a questioning inflection that you could add half an inch to her height if you so choose.
“She gets them all focused. She has such high energy,” Mulcahey said. “Her being the littlest girl, she’s the most physical … that just shows the other girls, if she can do it, you can do it.”
If her size was ever a disadvantage, it’s clearly not any more.
“I credit it all to hard work. I think people do think my size can be a disadvantage, but if you work hard and put your mind to it you can accomplish anything,” Taylor said.
The Falcons are trying to accomplish more than what they did last season, a second-round loss in the CIF Division IV playoffs. Time will tell if they can do it, but Mulcahey’s philosophy of constant pressure and speed is working so far.
“We run a really hard press on defense and that really helps us gain speed and get going on offense. So we catch [the other team] off-guard when they’re on offense to slip in and create advantages … we score a lot of goals because of our speed and physicality.”
“We worked really hard the year we won,” Taylor said of 2013, “and I know we’re working hard this year, and we plan on playing in the last CIF game.”
CV plays at Hoover today at 3:30 p.m. before participating in the Diamond Bar Tournament this weekend. The team returns to league action at Pasadena on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.