After being ranked atop the polls all season long en route to claiming the No. 1 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs, the Glendale High boys' water polo team has no shortage of confidence entering today's 7:30 p.m. semifinal match against Riverside Poly at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut.
"I think they're coming in intimidated by us, since they were spectating our [quarterfinal] game," Glendale driver Arman Momdzhyan said. "I think it will go good, for sure."
Riverside Poly Coach Mike Cardey admits the Nitros' reputation precedes them.
"They're the No 1-ranked team this year and no one in the division has beaten them," Cardey said. "They're going to be tough."
The Nitro's self-assuredness has more to do with the respect bestowed upon them by the CIF polls. They believe their diverse offense, spearheaded by Momdzhyan, can adapt to whatever defensive scheme Riverside Poly resorts to, while their own defensive strategy of containing standout Robert Bentley will be the key to victory.
"I've got a number friends who I've spoken with and we've got a good idea of their game," said Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook, who has his team in the semifinals for the first time since 2009 after guiding the Nitros (21-5) to consecutive appearances in the quarterfinals prior to this season. "They've got a few key players who they rely on to get their goals. It's going to come down matchups. If we can get our matchups throughout the game, we feel like we should be pretty successful on defense."
The key defensive matchup for Glendale will be its defensive specialist Manuk Piloyan on Poly's top weapon, driver Robert Bentley. Bentley lit up Flintridge Prep for 11 goals in the Bears' 17-9 quarterfinal win on Saturday.
"Hopefully he does the same thing this time," said Cardey, whose team (20-11) is in its first season in Division V after formerly competing in Division II.
But Piloyan had an impressive performance the same day against La Serna's Justin Contreras, as he limited the Lancers' standout to three goals in Glendale's own quarterfinal 11-6 win.
"They're a great team, we know, but we have specific things that we know about them," Nitros goalkeeper David Tiraturyan said. "If we stop [Bentley], we're pretty much set. We've heard that he has some good shots, so I'm ready also."
Added Momdzhyan: "We're going to stick to our game plan, we're going to shut [Bailey] down with Manuk. Everyone else just plays their own defense."
As has been the case most often this season, it was Momdzhyan leading the way in the scoring department with seven goals against La Serna. But a large part of Glendale's lofty ranking has been due to its unparalleled depth, as it has a collection of shooters, including David Papazian and Martin Chatalyan, who can make teams pay for overloading on Momdzhyan in the middle.
Holbrook said the Nitros will be comfortable taking what the Poly defense chooses to give them.
"Different teams, different games," Holbrook said. "Los Altos let us get the ball to Arman, so obviously we're going to get the ball to set. We've got a pretty basic game plan that if we can get the ball to set we'll do it, and if not, we'll attack from the outside."
The Bears' defense proved to be tough on the Rebels on Saturday, even when at a numbers disadvantage, as Prep was stopped on five of seven man-advantage chances, including a rare six-on-four.
"We have different plays for different situations; it doesn't matter what defense they give us," Momdzhyan said. "We're ready for it, drop, press, our team has good depth and we'll do fine against any kind of defense they throw at us."