Girls’ water polo is looking to stand out at school. A CIF title might be the solution.
By Brandon HENSLEY
A few weeks ago, the Crescenta Valley girls’ water polo team was struggling during a practice. Some of the players were tired, while others were sick, and Coach Brent Danna didn’t like what he saw.
“It looked like they were swimming in maple syrup,” he said.
He told his team to go home, get their homework done and come back strong the next day.
“I think we were just worked really hard, and mentally and physically fatigued,” said junior Elissa Arnold.
Leave it to the Falcons to show weakness only to their coach, because on game days, it’s domination time. CV was ranked No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division V heading into Wednesday’s first round matchup with Downey, a game in which the Falcons won 11-2. Next up is a Saturday affair in the quarterfinals.
CV has trained hard for a possible CIF championship, starting when the 28-year-old Danna took over as head coach from Pete Loporchio, a CV aquatics stalwart who left the program last year to try his hand in college.
Under Loporchio, CV made it to the semifinals in 2011 and 2012, but lost both times in that round. This year, the team went 27-2 overall, and won the Pacific League with an 8-0 record.
“This is an extremely talented team and a lot of the credit goes to Coach Loporchio and what he was able to do and the culture he was able to create,” said Danna, who was an assistant last year. “I’m able to focus on conditioning more than water polo sometimes because of the solid foundation he was able to create and teach these girls.”
Oh yes, the conditioning.
It’s not something the girls were looking forward to when Danna took the reins. Since the start of the school year, the girls have lifted weights four mornings a week – three mornings during the season – and they’re in the water the other two mornings doing six-on-five drills. In the afternoon, they practice three hours a day, which includes swimming over 3,000 yards.
“And we put on the weight belt when we start passing, so there’s more leg conditioning,” Arnold points out.
Both Arnold and fellow junior Ashley Taylor remember being apprehensive when Danna became coach.
“That’s the guys’ coach,” Taylor said, “don’t get near him.”
“I love him to death,” Taylor said.
“He understands us extremely well,” said Arnold. “He knows in practices when we’re fatigued and when we’re [over]worked … He listens to us and pays attention.”
If only others would start paying attention. Taylor is quick to point out some of the rather amusing questions people ask the team, and Arnold repeated them in shared bewilderment.
“People literally ask us how do we get horses in the pool,” Arnold said, referring to the name of her sport. Other questions she frustratingly answers to people: No, you can’t touch the bottom of the pool with your feet, and no, you can’t use two hands on the ball.
Of course, winning might help create more awareness.
“If we do go far, I think it will open people’s eyes to like, ‘Okay, there is an aquatics program at our school,’” Arnold said. “I kind of want people to give us the recognition that football, basketball, soccer get.”
Regardless of the amount – or lack – of exposure the Falcons are getting, they keep on winning games, a lot of times by a very wide margin. The team averaged 19.8 goals a game in league, and gave up just 2.6. Danna said defensively he wants to give up one goal per quarter, which would equal four goals.
Danna said defense is the key, especially with a 30-second clock
for the team with the ball
“If it’s going to take a team 15 seconds to swim down and set up, we can press for about 12 [seconds] and then shift into a drop for about two to three,” Danna said. With the goalie that we have (Gabriel Isacson) and our ability to play defense on the perimeter, it’s going to be pretty bleak in order to score on us.”
They did have trouble offensively in a recent game against possible semifinal foe Redlands East Valley, but won 7-4. Although the Falcons will be favored in every game, they know nothing is guaranteed.
“We just have to give every game our all, not knowing what’s going to come next and if we’re going to make it,” said Taylor. “All of us have that dream of going to CIF, but you know, anything can happen.”
Arnold says her goal of winning CIF comes from Danna telling the players to remember how they felt after losing last year.
“It’s been driving me personally to go get this,” she said.