ARCADIA — With a marked emphasis on team play, Coach Ara Oganesyan's new-look Hoover High boys' water polo team unveiled its new approach within the confines of Pacific League play.
So far so good, as the Tornadoes stifled host Arcadia, 14-8, in both teams' league opener on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon.
"I don't think we're a complete team yet," said Oganesyan of his approach and the fact that he needs to see improvement as his team locks horns with the likes of Crescenta Valley and Glendale in the upcoming weeks. "We're trying to get to that."
For as much as Hoover (4-8) is attempting to become a more well-rounded team, reigning All-Area Boys' Water Polo Player of the Year Hakop Kaplanyan still took over the match — at least when he was in the pool, anyhow.
The dynamic junior shined in all facets, scoring a match-high seven goals on eight shots, nabbing five steals and garnering two assists.
"He's really getting it," said Oganesyan of Kaplanyan playing within the new system. "He's adapting very well.
"I'm very proud of him, I've seen his game change from night to day. We challenged him to be a leader. He's done it and the ball is in the court of the other guys now."
After notching a CIF record 229 goals last season, Kaplanyan's numbers have declined, but he said he's ready to do whatever his coach wants and is best for his team.
"We had to do what coach wants and play more of a team game, that's no problem for me," Kaplanyan said. "I gotta do what my coach wants me to do."
Hoover's Todd Bazik batted a steal to Kaplanyan, who broke away for the first score of the match with :15 to go in the first quarter. A score by Arthur Soghomonyan, who had three on the day, and another Kaplanyan score saw the Tornadoes push out to a 3-0 lead holding Arcadia scoreless until it nabbed a man-advantage tally with only seven seconds remaining in the first stanza.
For the game, three of Arcadia's goals came on its 13 man-advantage opportunities, another came on a five-meter shot and six came with Kaplanyan on the bench. Overall, a smothering and physical Hoover defense kept the Apaches in check.
After three consecutive scores by Kaplanyan to start the second period, Oganesyan took his star player out and Arcadia cut the match to 6-3. Kaplanyan was then reinserted and assisted on another Soghomonyan goal and assisted one more time on an Arin Azarian score at the first-half buzzer.
In the third stanza, though, Oganesyan went the entire period without Kaplanyan and then took it a step further by playing just five field players over the last 3:35 of the period after Patrick Vertari drew his second ejection within a span of a minute.
"I wanted him to learn his actions can affect the team," Oganesyan said. "Not putting in anybody really sent the message."
For the most part, though, Oganesyan's goal is for the Tornadoes to realize that the team can't succeed with the success of just one player.
"They need to understand they all play such an important role," said Oganesyan, who got a combined eight steals from goalies Sevada Khodavedi and Ron Glandian and three more from Azarian. "Everybody's role is equally important."
Arcadia (2-5) scored four of its eight goals in the third period to cut the score to 9-7, but Hoover responded with a 5-0 run in the fourth that began with a beautiful Kaplanyan-to-Ryan Moguel-to-Soghomonyan sequence.
Kaplanyan and Vahe Avalyan scored twice each during the run, as well.
Next up for the Tornadoes is a home match with Pasadena on Thursday and Kaplanyan and Co. know that they must continue to improve if their goals of Pacific League and CIF contention are to come to fruition.
"We need to get stronger, we need to get faster," Kaplanyan said. "Every game, even if we lose, we're getting better.
"As a team overall, every game we're improving."