Nitro Arman Momdzhyan gives as good as he gets

Under water, Arman Momdzhyan has taken his share of physical abuse. He's been elbowed, kicked and had his swim suit torn.

The windfall for the punishment has been significant for Momdzhyan above water, where he's become the consummate goal scorer for the sizzling Glendale High boys' water polo team. It hasn't been easy accepting the constant battering, but there's no alternative for the towering Momdzhyan — a 6-foot-3 junior driver — because he's clearly in no mood to retaliate.

"It's very tough to take because players basically do whatever they want under water," said Momdzhyan, who has scored 76 goals in 10 matches this season for the Nitros. "Their objective is to make you retaliate, but you can't overreact and let them get under your skin.

"The best thing for me to do is just keep playing and trying to help my team win. The idea is to win, not hurt anybody. I just like to be able to go out there and play fair. All athletes, no matter the sport, need to be self-disciplined. It's tough to play sports, but you have to be able to play smart."

The Nitros (8-2) are delighted that Momdzhyan has been their go-to player for goals. He scored 40 goals in five matches in the recent Los Altos Tournament, including a team-best six against La Serna in a 14-12 win in the championship match Sept. 15 at Schurr High in Montebello.

The victory catapulted the Nitros to the No. 1 spot in the latest CIF Southern Section Division V poll and further boosted their confidence heading into Pacific League play, where Glendale looks to defend a title it won last season for the first time since 2002 before advancing to the quarterfinals under fourth-year coach Forest Holbrook.

"We came into the tournament confident, and wanted to come out of there in first," said Momdzhyan, a reigning All-Area first-teamer last season. "We got on track and everybody chipped in.

"I think it's something we can build off. We know that we can compete against a lot of the good teams in the division. It's hard to be the No. 1 team, but it's even harder to keep the No. 1 spot."

Last season, Momdzhyan provided Glendale a good-sized sampling of his goal-scoring capabilities. Momdzhyan scored 146 goals and drew 58 ejections en route to being the lone sophomore to garner All-CIF Division V first-team honors.

Holbrook, whose team will next compete Thursday in the Villa Park Tournament, said Momdzhyan refined his overall game to provide the Nitros with another offensive dimension.

"He had a lot to learn last year," Holbrook said. "He was one of the younger players on the team and he learned to play against a lot of the stronger players in our league and division.

"I think we saw him become very mature and patient. I also saw his overall work ethic improve, both in the weight room with his conditioning and in our games because he scored a lot of goals. His teammates get him the ball and he knows how to finish."

Momdzhyan said he had to continue to improve to make an impact for the Nitros, who lost standout hole/set Shant Tokatyan to graduation.

Holbrook needed somebody to fill the void left by Tokatyan, who provided leadership and a knack for excelling on offense and defense.

Momdzhyan was glad to pick up the slack.

"I learned from guys like that, and they pushed me to get better," Momdzhyan said. "They showed me the different kinds of techniques on shooting and being able to get to the ball.

"They taught me how to use all parts of my body and how to shoot accurately."

Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju has seen his share of high-caliber athletes capable of changing the dynamics of a match in one fell swoop.

One of them is Momdzhyan, who scored a pair of goals and drew a five-meter shot in Glendale's 12-8 victory against Crescenta Valley in a Conejo Tournament match on Sept. 8 at Rio Mesa High in Oxnard.

"If you don't pay attention to him, there's no way to defeat his team," said Sakonju, who guided Crescenta Valley to a Division VI championship in 2008. "He's a special player whose playmaking skills can change the course of a game.

"He's incredibly smart and quick. If he's not the best hole/set in the division, then he's in the top two. In talking to the refs, they see him taking all kinds of punishment. He just doesn't retaliate or lose his cool. Glendale has a pretty young team, but they are also a legit No. 1 team. They made the bump up to No. 1 in our division and Arman is a very big part of that."

While Momdzhyan is expected to provide a good chunk of Glendale's offense this season, he's perfectly adept at helping his teammates contribute in various ways.

Glendale utility player Martin Chatalyan, a senior, said Momdzhyan sets the examples for the Nitros.

"He's a great player who is always pushing himself until the very end and we try to do the same thing," Chatalyan said. "He's aggressive, big and strong and he's got such an accurate shot.

"What he did against La Serna in the tournament was amazing. Then again, he plays like that all the time."

Glendale will begin defense of its league crown Oct. 4 at Arcadia. There probably won't be any problems motivating Momdzhyan.

"The practices have been and will continue to be tough, but it's worth it because we feel like we are all getting stronger," Momdzhyan said. "I think we will have a good season.

"As for me, I still have things I need to work on. I can still play much better. I'm not in this game to win a goal-scoring title. It's more about trying to win league again and winning CIF."

charles.rich@latimes.com

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