After 27 matches played over the course of the last two-plus months, the members of the Glendale High boys’ water polo team have arrived on the doorstep of accomplishing a majestic feat for the first time in the program’s history — a CIF Southern Section championship.
For the Nitros, it will likely be their most stern test. It’s exactly how they want it to be after handling all previous regular season and playoff challenges while spending the bulk of the season as the top-ranked team in the division en route to playing in the program’s first CIF championship match.
Top-seeded Glendale (22-5) will meet third-seeded Pasadena Poly (25-2) in the Division V title match at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine. The match will mark the first time a Glendale High sports team — boys or girls — has played in a CIF championship since 1989. If the Nitros prevail, it will be the school’s first CIF team championship since that same year, when the boys’ volleyball team won a Division III-A title against Harvard-Westlake in 1989.
“It’s still sinking in that we are going to the final and there’s been a buzz around school hearing announcements over the microphone about us playing for the championship,” Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook said. “It’s great to be playing our fourth extra game in the postseason, and it’s taken a lot of hard work to get here.
“We want to win another championship for the school. We are going to face a great team in Pasadena Poly and we are going to have to be ready.”
The Nitros, who won the Pacific League championship for the second season in a row, have posted playoff wins against JW North, Los Altos and Riverside Poly. Glendale earned a 14-7 semifinal win against Riverside Poly on Wednesday at Mount San Antonio College shortly after the Panthers registered an 11-9 semifinal victory against second-seeded La Serna.
Pasadena Poly, which won the Prep League crown before picking up postseason wins against Pasadena and Walnut, will make its third consecutive appearance in a championship match. The Panthers fell to La Serna in 2010 and Bonita last season, both under coach Ryan Katsuyama.
Holbrook, who took over the program in 2009, said the Panthers figure to be a worthy opponent.
“We feel like we have a pretty good idea of what they are going to do,” Holbrook said. “Ideally, we don’t want their top player to be shooting 10-12 times, so it’s going to come down to certain matchups.
“They displayed a solid counter-attack during their semifinal game.”
Katsuyama said the teams appear to be similar.
“They have good two-meter guys and we have good two-meter guys,” Katsuyama said. “They have good perimeter guys and we have good perimeter guys.
“On paper, the teams are very even. The one big advantage I think we have is having been in the championship game the last two years. We know what it’s like to be there and play in those kind of games.”
Glendale’s stifling defense led to Riverside Poly committing 21 turnovers.
Holbrook said Glendale will look to continue recording turnovers against Pasadena Poly’s talented lineup that will include Chris McWilliams, Spencer Rogers, Kelly McGee and Brock Hudnut.
“We were able to focus on tightening our press defense against Riverside Poly,” Holbrook said. “We were high up on the hips and we were able to get some counter-attacks.”
Glendale’s offense will be paced by Artak Arzumanyan, Arman Momdzhyan, Martin Chatalyan and David Papazian.
Arzumanyan, a sophomore hole/guard, said the Nitros have been battle tested the past few weeks.
“When you’ve been ranked No. 1 the last month or so, you know there’s going to be pressure with every team playing their best against you,” said Arzumanyan, who scored three goals against Riverside Poly. “There’s pressure just to get here and then win.
“We’ve worked very hard to get here and we don’t want to let it go. Pasadena Poly is a solid team and they only have two losses. It’s going to be a good game.”
Glendale freshman attacker Levon Gevorkyan agreed with Arzumanyan.
“They have a good team, but so do we,” Gevorkyan said. “We have a very special group of guys, and it would be very cool to be able to win it all.”
Both goalkeepers have been solid throughout the playoffs. The Nitros will turn to David Tiraturyan in goal, while the Panthers will counter with Josh Ball.
Katsuyama said having Ball guarding the cage will be key.
“We play well as a unit,” Katsuyama said. “If somebody needs help, somebody will be there to provide it.
“Josh has the ability to read shots well. He’s in the right place at the right time.”