By Brandon HENSLEY
It was another impressive run by the Crescenta Valley girls’ water polo team, but in the end the Falcons were still left with disappointment after their season ended Feb. 24 in the CIF Division IV semifinals at Diamond Bar High School.
They lost to Royal High School, which went on to win the title last Saturday.
The 16-4 defeat at the hands of Royal may not have been what the Falcons were expecting, but they knew coming in it was going to be a rough ride.
“We went into it preparing a solid defense to counter their very powerful offense. We’re a great team, but we just faced a really, really good one. I think they were the better team on that day,” said goalkeeper Mackenzie Drewe.
Drewe, a senior, said Royal’s offense was well-run and very structured, and included great communication between its players.
“Their shots are very well-placed,” she said. “Almost all of them were high corners and they were very strong shots.”
Crescenta Valley had another dominating year in the Pacific League, defeating Burroughs at the end of the regular season to outright claim its seventh straight league title. The Falcons had no problem getting by Arlington 17-2 in the first round of the playoffs, and the team was collectively great on defense in the quarterfinals, beating Ayala 10-4.
Royal proved to be too much, though. Drewe thought her team was a little off right from the opening drop of the ball, but she credited her team with giving great effort.
“The defense was behind me the whole way and the offense was trying on every single possession. I walked away proud to be fighting next to these girls and that we played our best,” she said.
Drewe was a swimmer in middle school but didn’t begin playing water polo until her freshman year. That season she was on JV, and watched as the varsity squad took home its first ever CIF championship, winning the Division V crown over Riverside Poly.
That team featured strong players such as Elissa Arnold and Ashley Taylor, and it also included freshmen Audrey Taylor and Brynn Fernandez, who now along with Drewe have seen their high school careers come to a close.
But even though this year ended one game short of what the girls wanted,
Drewe is at least satisfied at completing a year in which she was the only girl in net for her team. The last two years she shared time with Tiffany Duarte, who graduated in 2015. Drewe has said this season her relationship with Duarte was great, but she relished her chance to go solo these past few months.
“There’s a sense of ownership, saying I played the game to the best of my ability or I didn’t play my best game,” said Drewe, who had 313 saves in 508 opportunities. “I felt so much support from my team and that they believed in me.”
On the offensive side of the ball, it was Audrey Taylor, unsurprisingly, who shined again. Taylor had 140 goals for a blistering attack. CV’s season-long game plan relied on defensive pressure to force turnovers leading to easy scoring chances.
Freshman standout Alex Garas had 127 goals – to go along with 69 steals – and senior Esma Dollaku registered 85 goals. Fernandez was second on the team in steals (62) and Garas and Dollaku each recorded 47 assists.
Drewe said that a tradition of CV aquatics is for players to reflect on the bus rides to and from road games, to take time before to mentally prepare for the game and after to collect their thoughts from what just happened.
She said there were mixed emotions from the players after the loss to Royal. Some, like Taylor (UC Davis) and Dollaku (Pitzer), will play in college next year. But some won’t, including Drewe, who is still mulling over college offers. She plans to move away from athletics and focus on her academics, which include potentially being a film major.
“It kind of is the end of my aquatics career, which is very weird. Having a practice to go to every day and being in the water and having that suddenly stop is a very strange experience,” she said. “I miss it, but I understand that life moves on.”