The San Marino High and Crescenta Valley High boys’ water polo teams faced off against one another earlier this season, and just two goals separated the two sides in the September nonleague matchup.
And on Oct. 31, the two sides met again, this time with much more at stake.
Against the visiting Falcons, San Marino played strong and consistently on both offense and defense to win 18-8 in a CIF Southern Section Division III first-round matchup.
“It was a very physical game,” San Marino coach Robert Zirovich said.
The San Marino High boys’ water polo team played their way into the playoffs as the Rio Hondo League No. 1 entry after sealing the league title. The Titans’ postseason started with a home match against Pacific No. 4 entry Crescenta Valley.
The Titans (18-9) limited the Falcons (16-17) to two goals in each quarter. San Marino, the No. 10-seeded team in Division III, scored eight in the first half, split evenly between quarters, and 10 in the second half, also split evenly between quarters.
Titan Howard Huang led the way on the attack for the hosts, tallying eight goals to equal the combined output of the visitors.
“We did really well offensive-wise,” Huang said. “We did [well] with drives and all the post-ups. We talked to each other. We passed the ball. We worked our offense. Everything went great.”
This included scoring three goals in a row in both the first and third quarters while playing solid defense throughout.
“Howard played defense, number one,” Zirovich said. “I know he’s our leading scorer for the game, but he had multiple steals. He also countered out. Countering out from playing defense is a big deal. It makes the offense of the other team think twice about everything they are doing.”
Daniel Chen recorded four goals, with one coming in each quarter.
“It was a little rough early,” Chen said. “There were some questionable things from both sides, but, ultimately, when things cleared out we came out on top.”
Diego Garcia and Jonathan Zhang each contributed two goals, while junior Nathan Chan and Tristian Wong scored one apiece.
Crescenta Valley was paced on the attack by Daron Alexanians with three goals. Aaron Choi had two, while Edgar Galstyan, Devin Janparian and Dion Alexanians each had one goal.
“San Marino came out inspired, playing very tough offensively [and] defensively,” Crescenta Valley coach Jan Sakonju said.
The Falcons got on the board first, just 15 seconds in, on a goal by Daron Alexanians. Chen then tied the score with 4:34 left, scoring off a rebound following an initial save of a shot by Kevin Benitez. Huang scored the next three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 10 seconds. The first was assisted by junior Nathan Chan. The second was assisted by Garcia, who had made a steal and swam the length of the pool to set it up, and the third came after a deft shot fake to get an opening. Galstyan then scored at the horn to make it 4-2 going into the second period.
Crescenta Valley tied the contest early in the second with two goals by Choi in the first 1:24 of the frame. From there the hosts scored the final four goals of the quarter, starting with a goal by Garcia off a long assist by Huang. Junior Nathan Chan then scored 21 seconds later, assisted by goalkeeper Thomas Zhou on the counterattack. Chen scored with 1:15 left and the final goal was Huang with 16 seconds left, off an assist by freshman Nathan Chan.
The Titans won the opening sprint of the second half and quickly scored when a midrange shot by Garcia found the side-netting of the cage 13 seconds in. Daron Alexanians, by way of a long skip shot, was next to score. After that, Huang strung together three straight scores, all in a span of 1:52. The first was a rocket shot into the upper corner of the goal. The second was on the counter assisted by Zhou. The third came from long distance into the upper corner of the cage. Daron Alexanians got one back for the visitors with a goal with 1:47 left, aided by a one-swimmer advantage due to an exclusion. Chen had a goal with 1:04 left on the counterattack, to make it 13-6 going into the fourth.
Chen also opened the scoring in the fourth with a skip shot 46 seconds in. Janparian scored next before San Marino rolled off the next three goals coming from Zhang, Huang and Zhang again. Zhou had saved a 5-meter penalty shot before the second Zhang goal to keep the run alive. Dion Alexanians scored the final goal for Crescenta Valley with 21 seconds to go and Wong the final goal of the contest with two seconds remaining.
SAN MARINO 12
The Titans faced the No. 7-seed Vikings on the road in the second-round Division III matchup on Nov. 2.
Chen led San Marino with four goals and Garcia, Huong and freshman Nathan Chan scored two goals apiece. Titans junior Nathan Chan and Nathan Sun also scored for San Marino.
After a close first quarter in which the teams were knotted at 1-1, the Vikings scored four unanswered goals to take a 5-1 lead with 59 seconds remaining in the half.
Garcia pulled one back for the Titans, but the Vikings restored their four-goal cushion at the closing stages of the half.
Chen kicked off the second half with a Titans goal at 6:11 to cut the Vikings lead to 6-3, however, Downey responded with three, straight goals to establish a five-goal advantage.
The Titans were able to pull within three goals four times in the final four minutes of the game, but a Vikings goal with 41 seconds remaining was the final dagger of the match.
The second-round battle was a rematch of a game previously played in a tournament on Oct. 21. The Titans prevailed in overtime in the October matchup.
The San Marino boys’ water polo team finished the season as co-champions in the Rio Hondo League alongside Temple City.
First published in the Nov. 9 issue of the San Marino Tribune