WHITTIER — While most teams would probably still be basking in the glory after winning a league championship, the members of the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team went right back to the pool looking to fine tune some areas of their game Friday.
After capturing the Pacific League championship for the fifth season in a row on Thursday, Crescenta Valley enjoyed a brief celebration before making the trek to meet host La Serna in a nonleague match Friday.
Crescenta Valley passed its final regular-season test before beginning defense of its CIF Southern Section Division V crown, as Ashley Taylor collected a team-high four goals and Elissa Arnold added two goals and four steals to earn a 10-5 victory.
"I'm very happy in getting this win because they came ready to play," said Crescenta Valley Coach Brent Danna, whose team improved to 22-6. "I'm extremely happy with the effort and the execution.
"They had great defensive awareness throughout the game and that's one of the things we wanted to work on heading into the playoffs. That's why you play a team like La Serna because you might see a team like them in CIF. These are the kind of matches that get you ready for the playoffs."
Crescenta Valley, ranked third in the latest Division V poll, got two goals from Any Aghakhanian and one apiece from Brynn Fernandez and Audrey Taylor to turn back La Serna (15-13) for the second time in less than a month. The Falcons picked up an 11-10 win against the Lancers, who won the Del Rio League championship and are ranked eighth in Division IV, on Jan. 25 in an America's Finest City Tournament match in La Jolla.
On Friday, the Falcons led throughout and held the Lancers at bay.
Ashley Taylor broke a 2-2 deadlock with 4:35 remaining in the first quarter. She then scored with 1:48 to play in the quarter before Aghakhanian closed out the first-quarter, scoring 38 seconds later.
"We knew we had to come out by being calm," Ashley Taylor said. "With league now being over, we could come out and work on things like our cross passing because that's something you need to be good at in the playoffs.
"I think we will have a good chance at winning CIF again if we can come out strong, like we did today. That will be the key factor because everybody will be ready for us."
Crescenta Valley made it 6-2 on a goal by Fernandez with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter. The Falcons held a 6-2 advantage before the Lancers made their comeback bid.
Carissa Perez scored the lone goal of the third quarter to bring La Serna to within 6-3 with 4:13 left. The Lancers then got a goal from Katie Hill to make it 6-4 with 5:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Crescenta Valley, which posted a 13-1 victory against rival Glendale to win the league title at Burbank High, then got a man-advantage goal from Ashley Taylor to build a 7-4 lead 26 seconds later.
"That was the big goal right there," said Danna, the reigning All-Area Girls' Water Polo Coach of the Year who piloted the Falcons to their first CIF championship. "We were able to get that goal and it took the momentum away from La Serna."
After the Lancers pulled to within 7-5 on a man-advantage goal by Perez with 2:26 left, Crescenta Valley then received goals from Arnold, Ashley Taylor and Audrey Taylor to seal the victory.
Crescenta Valley starting goalkeeper Mackenzie Drewe played the first half and made four saves. The Falcons then inserted Tiffany Duarte into the cage and Duarte collected seven saves.
Arnold said the Falcons needed one more match to help them get set for the playoffs.
"We came out and pretended like today was a CIF match," said Arnold, who opened the scoring with 6:24 remaining in the first quarter and had three second-half steals. "We are playing somebody from a different division that's got a different mentality.
"We definitely wanted to come out and make a statement. We made some real good passes and played great defense. With our defense playing so well, I think it killed their momentum because our gapping to the ball was good. I want to be able to have a CIF [championship] ring on both hands. For that to happen, we are going to need to play great defense."
Perez paced the Lancers with a team-high four goals.
The playoffs pairings for all seven divisions will be released Sunday. It's likely the Falcons will host a first-round match Wednesday at Burbank, Danna said.
"We know we will have to play cerebral water polo," Danna said. "That means using the clock to our advantage and making smart decisions with our passing and defense. It will be a challenge, but it's one that we want to face again."