Boys' Water Polo Preview: Glendale High boys' water polo has big shoes to fill

If there were two universal talking points this summer in regards to the four local boys’ water polo teams, perhaps those would be change and stability.

Such seemingly contradictory ideas have found their way into the thoughts of the Crescenta Valley, Flintridge Prep, Glendale and Hoover high programs, which are preparing for the upcoming season with differing expectations and goals.

For Glendale, it may very well be impossible to follow up what the 2013 team accomplished.

That squad, led by graduated All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year Arman Momdzhyan, powered its way to the school’s first CIF Southern Section championship in any sport since 1989 when the Nitros defeated Los Altos, 13-11, for the Division V crown.

Overall, Glendale finished 22-6 last season and won its third straight undefeated Pacific League championship.

Gone from that group is Momdzhyan and his area-leading 169 goals along with the team’s architect, five-year coach Forest Holbrook, who took an administrative position at Crescenta Valley High.

To make matters more difficult, Glendale and its Pacific League rivals were also bumped up one level to Division IV.

All of the above obstacles are now problems for new coach Stephen Whittier, who comes to Glendale after a successful stint at Temescal Canyon.

“The main thing for us in terms of being successful this year is playing fundamentally sound water polo and just doing what we’re good at,” Whittier said. “I’m new to my team and they’re new to me and I’m still feeling it out. I’m not going to make too many changes right away.”

The good news for Whittier is that the 29 year old has two stars back this season in senior hole guard Manuk Piloyan and senior utility player Artak Arzumanyan.

Piloyan was an absolute beast for Glendale last season, as he finished with 117 goals and was the team’s top defender. Piloyan earned All Pacific League, All-CIF Southern Section Division V and All-Area first-team honors along with being named to the All-Southern California sixth team.

As for Arzumanyan, he was no slouch in tallying 89 goals and also garnering league, divisional and All-Area first-team acclaim.

“Manuk is an absolute animal, a freak show out there who can do things that others can’t,” Whittier said. “Artak is a force and a great scorer. Those two are going to be our main offensive force.”

As for the rest of the team, Whittier is on a cautious wait-and-see mode.

“We have some freshmen who are going to surprise and some returners I think can do good things,” Whittier said. “I think despite the losses, we should be a contender in this new division and maybe a semifinalist. We’ll see, it’s early.”

Perhaps the biggest challenger to Glendale’s reign within league is last season’s runner-up, Crescenta Valley, which finished 16-10 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division V postseason.

Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju has the benefit of a monster team as he in the process of selecting starters out of a group of 22, which includes three returning starters.

“We definitely have a strong team, but I thought we had a strong team last year and Glendale took it to another level,” Sakonju said. “We always strive to be on top, even in years where we we’re down. It’s going to be a battle with Glendale and Pasadena.”

The Falcons have a solid trio of contributors back, led by senior hole guard Griffin Harting, a Pacific League and All-CIF selection who tallied 45 goals and 23 steals.

Joining Harting are senior drivers Omar Trad, a Pacific League honorable mention, and Trevor Goddard.

“All three of these guys are intelligent, AP students,” Sakonju said. “They’re unselfish, experienced club players who are also leaders. This has been a building process for them for many years and now they’ve reached their senior seasons.”

Sakonju will also rely on growth from junior goalie Logan Goddard and junior hole set Vasil Halchev, while the team also has sophomore Brandon Fernandez, the younger brother of All-Area first-team driver Nate Fernandez.

The Falcons open the year ranked No. 8 in Division IV.

League championship aspirations aren’t just reserved for Glendale and Crescenta Valley, though, as Flintridge Prep is looking to slay the Prep League’s dragon, Pasadena Poly.

The Rebels were stout again under the leadership of coach Dan Hare as Flintridge Prep finished 14-12 last season and 7-3 in league, which tied them for second place with Webb, which has since left the Prep League and was replaced by freelance team Brentwood.

The Rebels eventually advanced to the divisional quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by divisional runner-up Los Altos, 24-15.

“Very little has changed from a numbers standpoint on our roster,” said Hare, who is entering his fifth year, “but we lost 10 seniors and are replacing them with underclassmen. So, it will be a different team.”

The Rebels graduated a slew of talented contributors, including All-Area selections Ethan Vandeventer (97 goals, 56 assists and 53 steals) and John Treinen (68 goals, 41 assists and 35 steals).

The good news is that the team still has some firepower back in seniors Diego Delgado, Miles Harber and Sean King.

Delgado, who will be an attacker this year, was a Prep League second-team selection who racked up 46 goals, 39 assists and 68 steals last season.

“Diego is going to be the focal point of our offense and he’s a very high-level player,” said Hare, who added Sasha Bucuer to his coaching staff in the offeseason. “We have some good players around him and we’re excited.”

One of the interesting positional battles will be between returning senior Alex Hirsch Marin and junior rising star Greg Walsh at goalie.

Junior Alexander Maletis and freshmen Kasen Barraclough and Ian Tien also figure to be solid contributors.

Flintridge Prep begins the season ranked No. 9 in Division IV.

At Hoover, fourth-year coach Kevin Witt may just have a sleeper postseason squad.

Last season, the Tornadoes showed signs of progress in finishing 9-15 overall and 4-4 in league, which translated into a fifth-place finish.

“We’re expecting to do a little bit better than last year, but that really depends on how the seniors do,” Witt said. “I’m not as focused on competing for a league title as I am on remaining consistent.”

While Witt says the team lacks a true No. 1 offensive option, the Tornadoes have a solid one-two punch in senior attacker Hakop Kaplanyan and senior utility player Thomas Babikyan.

“What I like most about Hakop is that he remains calm under pressure,” Witt said. “This is his third year on varsity and we’re going to expect leadership from him.

“As for Thomas, he’s back after taking a year off and he’s a very well-rounded player with good speed.”

Overall, Hoover has 12 players vying for a starting spot, which has Witt looking forward to the first game of the year.

“We’re just excited to start the season,” Witt said. “We have some very young players and I think we can blend them into the system that we want to run. This could end up being a good team.”

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World