Ryan Katsuyama was unsure of the direction that his boys water polo team would take.
Heading into the 2009 season, he had reason to worry. Pasadena Poly was losing Tommy Gilfillan, its all-time scoring leader and one of the top career and single-season scorers in the CIF-Southern Section.
The Panthers were coming off a Prep League title and a berth in the CIF-SS semifinals.
Katsuyama had little to worry about. Pasadena Poly did not repeat as Prep League champion, but as a second-place team it advanced the CIF-SS quarterfinals. The Panthers went farther than any other west San Gabriel Valley team.
They also found a replacement for Gilfillan, a player they can rely on for the next two years. Henry Pray broke Gilfillan’s sophomore school record for goals, earned All-CIF first-team honors and has been selected Star-News Player of the Year.
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“It was a big adjustment to high school water polo,” Pray said. “The competition is different. In club, we’ll play nine times a week, maybe three games in one day. In high school, we’ll play, at the most, three times in the week.”
That gave Pray plenty of time to work on his goal-scoring opportunities and defense.
Boy, did he score goals. He finished with 120 and was second on the team in steals.
“I was surprised by how many goals I scored,” he said. “I was just hoping to get 90 goals.”
“I’m excited about the future of our program knowing we have a guy like Henry who is a dominating presence at two meters,” Katsuyama said.
“Coaches talk about players to build around. There isn’t a better place to start than at two meters.”
Pray had to face a variety of defenses and had to learn to develop his defensive skills, too. The Panthers were the only team to defeat eventual CIF-SS Division 6 and league champion Webb.
“He showcased his goal-scoring prowess, but what made his season so great was the fact that he was able to do this against constant double- and triple-teams,” Katsuyama said. “Not to be outdone was his work on the defensive end of the pool. There were many times this season that he was able to stop our opponents with great perimeter defense.”
Teammate Nick Grover, a senior driver, also was selected to the first team. He received the same honor last season.
South Pasadena ended La Canada’s dominance in the Rio Hondo League with its first title of the decade. Head coach Robert Echeverria was selected Coach of the Year and two of his juniors, offensive players Sean Grab and Evan MacCarthy, were picked for the first team.
“It was an amazing season,” Echeverria said. “I got to experience something I haven’t been able to in five years, that is beat La Ca ada and win a league title.
The Tigers lost to the Spartans in overtime at La Canada and then defeated the Spartans at home. They were eliminated in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs on a last-second goal.
“I finally got to see our group, which worked very hard, win the title,” he said.
Also selected to the team are three of his league goes, sophomore 2-meter Bo Mattix of La Canada, senior 2-meter Jeffrey Bassette of Temple City and senior goalkeeper James Adams of San Marino. Pasadena senior Scott Snowden also made the team.
Mattix led the Spartans in scoring and seemed to score key goals at critical times, including wins over South Pasadena and Temple City. Bassette did the same to the Spartans at the Temple City pool.
Adams played in the field and in goal for the Titans, who also advanced to the CIF-SS playoffs. But his expertise was in the net.
His play forced opponents to alter shots and strategies, something no other goalkeeper in the area could accomplish.
Snowden led the Bulldogs in scoring, too. Pasadena also advanced to the CIF-SS playoffs.
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