It’s no secret it will be difficult for the Hoover High boys’ water polo team to fill the hole left by the graduation of Hakop Kaplanyan, easily the most decorated and successful player in Tornadoes water polo history.
That’s left second-year Hoover Coach Kevin Witt searching for new goal-scoring alternatives. While Kaplanyan, the reigning All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year who finished his stalwart four-year career at Hoover with 593 goals, provided the Tornadoes with a physical, goal-scoring presence en route to leading them to the CIF Southern Section Division V semifinals for the first time in the program’s history last season, it will be up to others to at least partially fill the void left by Kaplanyan.
“We lost a lot with Hakop, and you just don’t replace Hakop, who is one of the best water polo players to come out of this area,” said Witt, a former Glendale standout and the reigning All-Area Coach of the Year. “You can’t replace him as an individual.
“There are a lot of opportunities for our players, so it’s up to them to be aggressive in terms of seeking playing time. It’s going to be a good reference point to see what our future players can do this year and beyond.”
Hoover, which advanced to the Pacific League Tournament’s championship match against Glendale, will likely turn to junior utility/hole/set Ryan Moguel and sophomore attacker Alek Keshishyan for goal-scoring production. The duo will be joined by junior Hakop Baghumian, a hole/guard.
Minus Kaplanyan, Witt’s team goals haven’t changed.
“We’d love to get back to the league championship game and try to get back to the semifinals,” said Witt, whose team fell to Pasadena Poly in a semifinal match at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut. “We might struggle at first with everybody adjusting to their new roles, but they’ll get it and I like the talent we have.
“The league just keeps getting stronger. Glendale has a lot of experience, and, until they are beaten, they are the team in front. Crescenta Valley and Hoover are young. Burbank is talented, so there will be a lot of jostling right at the beginning of the league.”
Glendale will look to defend the league championship it captured last season for the first time since 2002. The Nitros went undefeated in league and advanced to the Division V quarterfinals last season under the direction of coach Forest Holbrook.
Glendale will return a handful of key players, including junior hole/set Armand Momdzhyan and senior utility players Martik Chatalyan and David Papazian. Momdzhyan finished with 146 goals and drew 58 ejections last season en route to earning spots on the All-Area first team and All-CIF.
Holbrook said the Nitros, ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Division V preseason poll, will be targeted by the remainder of the teams in league.
“It’s a new territory for us being league champs,” Holbrook said. “We’ve pointed out to our guys how difficult it will be to stay there, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to win it again.
“Nothing will be handed to us, and it’s going to be exciting seeing some good competition not only in league, but in tournaments and our nonleague games. We feel like we have some well-rounded players who can provide leadership. We’ve seen that at practice and everything seems to be falling in line.”
At Crescenta Valley, the Falcons will look for a return trip to the playoffs after finishing third in the Pacific League last season. Crescenta Valley fell in the first round of the Division V playoffs last season and is ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division V preseason poll.
Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju, fresh off guiding the school’s boys’ swimming team to a CIF Southern Section Division II championship in May, said the Falcons will have more depth than last year and will try to use it to their advantage.
“We have a lot of good young talent on board and I think we are pretty balanced,” said Sakonju, who piloted Crescenta Valley to a Division VI crown in 2008. “It reminds me a lot of the 2008 team.
“We have a lot of players who want to continue improving.”
Crescenta Valley’s featured players are expected to include senior hole/set Antonio Camarillo, an All-CIF pick last season, senior hole/guard Andrew Lockwood, senior driver Brian Dertli, junior driver Nate Fernandez, senior goalkeeper Robert Menke and junior goalkeeper George Vine.
Flintridge Prep showed drastic improvement last season under the tutelage of coach Dan Hare, whose team reached the Division V playoffs after finishing fourth in the Prep League and appears to have a strong core of young talent in store for another run at a playoff spot in 2012.
The Rebels will return five starters from last season, including junior hole/guard Alex Blaine, junior utility player Ethan Vandeventer, sophomore driver Diego Delgado, junior hole/guard Carlo Sivilotti and senior goalkeeper Brian Khin.
“We took some baby steps last season and made a lot of improvement,” Hare said. “We want to try to finish 6-4 or 7-3 in league and maybe finish near the top in league, and then go to the playoffs and go a couple of rounds.
“[League champion] Pasadena Poly is an inspiration for us. They are the water polo program that we someday will look to be. We haven’t beaten them in a few years. They will have a significant edge in our league, but we at least want to stay in their rearview mirror.”