He might have stood a chance at shattering his state record for most goals in a season. However, Hakop Kaplanyan chose to make sacrifices.
In 2009, Kaplanyan, a junior utility player on the Hoover High boys’ water polo team, scored a state-best 229 goals. Having not forgotten the cherished mark, Kaplanyan was ready to dive into the 2010 campaign ready and quite possibly able to eclipse that mark. Instead, he was given additional responsibilities by Hoover Coach Ara Oganesyan on both ends of the pool, allowing him to become a more polished player and providing the Tornadoes an added dimension with a diversified offense.
“Whatever Coach Oganesyan tells me, it’s for the best of the team,” said Kaplanyan, who finished with an area-leading 138 goals and added 48 assists and 62 steals this season to help Hoover place third in the competitive Pacific League and to an appearance in the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs. “It’s about being able to follow directions and improving our team whatever way we can.
“Some people might have a problem with that. It bothered me a little at first because I wanted to come back and try to break my record. … The IQ of our team became much higher. You learn that you can’t be selfish and I was able to play well defensively and that helped improve my overall game.”
Still, Kaplanyan’s overall statistics didn’t go unnoticed. He became a more versatile player and gained acclaim just the same. He was named the league’s most valuable player for the first time and he secured All-CIF accolades once again.
It’s for those reasons that he was unanimously voted the 2010 All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year by the editors and sportswriters of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun for the second consecutive season.
“Overall, it was a satisfying season for me,” Kaplanyan said. “I’m fine with it.”
With more of Kaplanyan’s teammates involved with the offense, Kaplanyan still commanded plenty of attention. Some teams saw best to assigning one player to defend Kaplanyan, while others opted to double-team or even triple-team the physical specimen.
“With Hakop, he did become a more well-rounded player this year,” Oganesyan said. “It was a goal of ours before the season began to get more people involved trying to score.
“We analyzed it and thought it would be the best thing for the team. You could see how he improved with getting his teammates involved. It was tough for him at first, but he trusted his teammates more and they trusted themselves.”
Glendale second-year Coach Forest Holbrook, whose team took second in league for a second straight season, said players of Kaplanyan’s ilk are rare. Having to defend against Kaplanyan isn’t a pleasurable experience, either.
“Over the last two years, Hakop has proven himself to be one of the most dominating players in the United States in his age division,” Holbrook said. “He’s extremely talented and he’s the best player in this area.
“When you coach against him, it can be extremely frustrating. He can take over a game when he gets the opportunity and you are not safe with him out there when you have a four or five-goal lead. It takes a lot to stop him and you just can’t play him one on one.”
Kaplanyan, who also plays club on the Glendale-based Olimpiakan Reservner Water Polo Club, said he might be able to set a new mark for goals next season and have the Tornadoes in line to contend for the program’s first league championship. He credited club coaches Vahagn Arakelyan and Alfred Tamazyan with helping him become a more complete player.
“Vahagn got me involved in water polo and he’s been with me since I first started swimming,” Kaplanyan said. “I’ve learned that conditioning is the No. 1 thing and then staying focused.
“It’s great to be able to play water polo pretty much year round. It’s like a second life to me.”