Focus on 'D' leads to win

NORTHWEST GLENDALE — Thanks to a five-goal blitz in the opening quarter, the Hoover High boys’ water polo team had all the offense it would need in its home opener against Culver City.

But the focus for the Tornadoes this season is on defense, and it was the Hoover defense that ultimately propelled it to a 9-4 nonleague victory on a hot Thursday afternoon.

“We have a young team,” said Hoover Coach Kevin Witt, whose team improved to 3-2 after opening its season at the Conejo Valley Tournament last weekend. “You can learn a defensive game a lot faster than you can an offensive one, so that’s our main focus.”

And the Hoover defense held Culver City (0-2) scoreless until just seven seconds remained in the opening quarter with the Tornadoes already owning a 5-0 lead, buoyed by two goals from Hakop Baghumian and single tallies from Narek Sarokhani, Arik Abedi and Nick Ziccardi in a span of 4:01. Baghumian began the scoring with 4:27 to go in the period and Ziccardi gave the Tornadoes a 5-0 advantage with 26 seconds left.

“I’m happy with the outcome of it; I’m happy with the game,” said Baghumian, a junior. “These guys played well and they’re gonna improve a lot.

“We only have one senior. We’re all just a learning team. … Defense is our focus.”

Much of the talk this season comes as it is the first in the post-Hakop Kaplanyan-era, as the multiple-time All-CIF Southern Section honoree and All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year graduated after four seasons of leading the Tornadoes and the area in scoring, in addition to leading Hoover to the playoffs and its deepest playoff runs ever. But a Hakop still led the team in scoring on Thursday, only this time it was Baghumian. And, believe it or not, Hakop Kaplanyan is still on the team and still donning a No. 7 cap, but it’s the reigning All-Area Player of the Year’s younger cousin.

“I yell the same things,” joked Witt, who was yelling out, ‘Hakop’ plenty during the match.

Baghumian finished with a match-high four goals, while teammates Alek Keshishyan and Arbi Abnousian also scored. Goalie Dmitiriy Ginosyan provided six saves.

Hoover’s offense waned down the stretch, scoring twice in the second and third quarters before it was shut out in the fourth. But its swarming defense never let the match get close, holding Culver City to one goal in each period.

The lopsided win was made more impressive considering Hoover was without returning starter Ryan Moguel for the match. It was also the first for the Tornadoes at their home pool, which is far smaller than the majority of the pools the Tornadoes have played in, whether it is in club or other high school competition.

“[It makes] a lot of difference,” Baghumian said. “I’m used to bigger pools.”

Hoover won’t contend with its home pool for quite some time though, as it travels to face Whittier and Santa Monica in nonleague matches on Wednesday and Sept. 20. Its next home match won’t be until a Pacific League tilt against Pasadena on Oct. 4.

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