ARCADIA — Since before the season even started, Glendale High girls' water polo Coach Forest Holbrook has preached a focus on defense above all else.
On days like Thursday, where the Nitros' offense took some time to get going against host Arcadia, a defense-first philosophy can be a valuable fallback.
After ending the first quarter trailing by one goal, Glendale shut out the Apaches the rest of the way to record a convincing 12-2 Pacific League win.
"It's just trusting your teammates, that's all we need to do," Nitros goalkeeper Mariquita Lopez said of the team's defensive approach. "At the beginning, we were just nervous."
With a physical, smothering defense, Glendale rendered Arcadia virtually powerless over the last three periods and scored 11 unanswered goals. On the rare occasions when the Apaches did get close enough to get a quality shot attempt, Lopez provided an effective last line of defense, finishing with 11 saves.
"As the season advances, we're really reaping the benefits of an early-season focus on defense from every player," said Holbrook, whose team improved to 3-1 in league, while the Apaches dropped to 1-3. "Mariquita Lopez has been playing unbelievable. We have seen an enormous transformation with her this year. As much as our team helped out on defense, the standout player for this game was our goalkeeper.
"She's a calming aspect back in the goal. Even if we're not playing the way we want to play at the beginning of the game, the girls are starting to rely on her."
Led by three goals apiece from Kristina Terzyan and Milene Minassians, the Nitros' offense began to match the output of the team's defense in the third period.
The third period saw Glendale's 4-2 halftime lead triple, beginning with a Terzyan goal assisted by Arpineh Ohanian at the 5:35 mark. Minassians then came up with steals on consecutive possessions, dishing to Desiree Garcia Solano for a goal on the first and passing to Terzyan, who quickly relayed it right back to Minassians for the breakaway finish on the second.
Lopez had four of her saves in the quarter, including a pair during a bang-bang sequence within one Arcadia possession.
Within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, Minassians scored twice more and Jacqueline Jones converted on a five-meter shot to give Glendale a nine-goal lead.
Terzyan scored the first goal of the match at the 4:31 mark, but Arcadia took advantage of some disorganized offensive possessions for the Nitros to go up, 2-1, on a pair of tallies by Michelle Fry by the end of the first quarter.
"I think that we came off being extremely excited from our game [against league-champion Crescenta Valley] and not getting the result that we wanted," said Holbrook, whose team suffered an 11-7 loss to the Falcons on Tuesday, "and we definitely came out slow and it took us a little bit to get going."