Riding a wave of momentum and seemingly brimming with confidence and optimism, the Glendale High boys’ water polo team – along with three other local squads – found out the path that lies in front of it on its quest to win a CIF Southern Section Division V championship, as playoff pairings were unveiled Sunday morning.
“Our team’s goal is obviously to win the championship,” Holbrook said. “Our guys don’t get excited about getting to the quarters or the semifinals, our goal is to win CIF. We’re excited to play the best teams in our division. To win a title you have to beat the best. We welcome the challenge.”
The Nitros, who wrapped up their first Pacific League title since 2002 on Thursday and have won nine straight games, will open up the playoffs in the first round on Wednesday when they host Webb, the Prep League’s No. 3 team. Hoover, the Pacific League’s second-place squad, will take to the road to face Walnut on Wednesday, while both Crescenta Valley and Flintridge Prep will open up Tuesday in Division V wild-card matches. The Falcons, after a third-place finish in the Pacific, will host Cathedral City, while the Rebels, an at-large entry out of the Prep League, will host California.
“We’re very optimistic about our draw,” Holbrook said. “We’re happy about it.”
The 21-7 Nitros, who will host their game 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Burroughs High, will welcome a Webb squad that took third in the Prep League and is two seasons removed from a CIF championship, which it won after defeating Glendale in the semifinals.
“They’ve been rebuilding since then,” Holbrook said. “We feel pretty good about it.”
However, the Gauls (18-10) are familiar with upsets as they recently defeated Pasadena Poly, 14-13, handing Poly, the Prep League champion and No. 3 seed in the tournament, its only league loss.
Glendale, which has been led as of late by Armand Momdzhyan, Manuk Piloyan and Martin Chatalyan, among others, owns a win over top-seeded Bonita in its nine-game winning streak. And, should the Nitros move on they would face either fourth-seeded La Serna or a wild-card team – either Flintridge Prep or California.
La Serna, which defeated Glendale last year in the CIF quarterfinals, also owns a win over the Nitros this season in a contest that Holbrook said he and his team viewed as, “one of our worst games of the season, so we feel pretty good about [our changes in a rematch].”
“It’s pretty exciting,” Holbrook said. “It looks like the first two teams we should play were the teams that knocked us out the last two years.”
Hoover (15-6), despite residing in the division’s top 10 for the duration of the season and finishing second in a Pacific League that produced five playoff entrants, opens on the road against Walnut (14-9), a second-place finisher from the Hacienda League.
“We knew it was gonna be tough,” said Hoover first-year Coach Kevin Witt of his team’s draw. “I didn’t think we’d get too much respect being the 10th-ranked team and the No. 2 team out of our league. We really haven’t played anybody [highly ranked] in our division besides Glendale. I’m completely comfortable with where we’re at.”
Led by two-time reigning All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year Hakop Kaplanyan, arguably the division’s most dangerous scorer, the Tornadoes enter the postseason having lost two of their last three games – both to Glendale.
“I’ve tried to preach this whole year it doesn’t matter who we play, but how we play,” Witt said. “And I feel that we made a lot of mistakes in those losses. That’s not to take anything from Glendale, but any coach will tell you it’s about what his team did.
“So, I’m not really worried about negative momentum, I think we’re actually playing pretty good at this point of the season.”
Hoover will face Walnut at Mount San Antonio College at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Crescenta Valley (9-18) also enters the postseason coming off a loss, as the Falcons were upset by Burbank in the third-place match of the league championship tournament. Burbank took a 7-0 lead before the Falcons made a late charge in the 16-10 win.
"We are looking forward to the game and looking forward to putting forth a much better effort than our final game versus Burbank last week," Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju said. "All of us are embarrassed by the lackluster performance giving away an upset win. We want to use the momentum of our third- and fourth-quarter performance to carry us into the playoffs. It was being in that urgent situation that forced our guys to tap into their ability to play at a higher level that we had expected of them all season. We knew they had this ability, we just have failed to get to that to the surface until now."
A season after reaching the division semifinals, the Falcons are in rebuilding mode as they play host to Cathedral City (10-10), a Desert Valley at-large entrant, in a wild-card contest on Tuesday.
The winner of the game, which will be played Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Burbank High, will play fourth-seeded La Serna on Wednesday.
Flintridge Prep, should it win, would face second-seeded Palm Desert on Wednesday.
The Rebels, an at-large entrant out of the Prep League at 14-11, will take on a Del Rio League at-large entrant in California (15-9) Tuesday as Prep makes its return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
"This, coupled with getting our first league win in three seasons, lot of firsts this year," Flintridge Prep Coach Dan Hare said. "[We're] just ecstatic. This is a realization of a team goal that we set at the beginning of the year."
Hare also believes his team is playing well entering the posteason, with a win over Division I Sherman Oaks Notre Dame last week before a tight loss to Chadwick.
"I love how we're playing going in," Hare said.
Elsewhere in the area, Burbank will travel to play Los Altos in a wild-card match, while Pasadena will travel to face El Rancho in another wild-card match. In Division III, La Canada will host Santa Monica on Wednesday in the first round, while South Pasadena will travel to face Palos Verdes.