Defense lifts Nitros to CIF semifinals

COMMERCE - With a sophomore goalkeeper and a high-scoring junior leading the way, the Glendale High boys’ water polo team took a big step Saturday in its quest to qualify for the CIF Southern Section Division V championship match.

In a quarterfinal contest against Los Altos at the Brenda Villa Aquatics Center in Commerce, the Nitros turned in a shining effort at both ends of the pool. Led by a stifling defense that held the Conquerors scoreless for nine minutes and 10 seconds midway through the contest, Glendale stepped up to defeat Los Altos, 11-6, in a quarterfinal match.

With the victory, the No. 1-seeded Nitros (21-5) will make their way to the semifinals for the first time since 2009, which was the first year under current coach Forest Holbrook, who got a match-high seven goals from junior Arman Momdzhyan.

Glendale will take on Riverside Poly in a final four contest Wednesday at Mount San Antonio College. The match is scheduled for 5 p.m. Riverside Poly won its Saturday quarterfinal against Flintridge Prep, 17-9.

“Our goal is to hold teams to under eight goals a game,” said Holbrook, whose team won the Pacific League championship this season. “Any time we do that our defense gives us a great chance to win the game. This was a real defensive battle and our boys showed a lot of focus and they worked hard.”

The key to Glendale’s success was its ability to alter the shots of the Los Altos (16-15) shooters and keep them from getting many scoring opportunities around the goal.

That defense clamped down after Los Altos’ Justin Contreras scored with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter to tie the score at 2. The Nitros scored two goals and didn’t allow any for the rest of the quarter, as they ended with a 4-2 lead after one. The Conquerors were then held scoreless through the entire second quarter, as they weren’t able to make good on any of their 10 shot attempts.

It was more of the same in the third for Los Altos, as it was again held scoreless during regulation, missing on all nine of its shot attempts. However, as the buzzer went off ending the quarter, Los Altos got off a shot. It was ruled that a Glendale defender had blocked the effort with two hands, prompting a five-meter penalty shot. Contreras made good on the shot. However, the Nitros still held the lead, 7-3.

Glendale’s defense was anchored by sophomore keeper David Sarkisian, who made 13 saves — seven in the second alone. Sarkisian stopped his share of point-blank shots, most of which came on rebounds.

“I just tried to get my mind in shape in preparing for this game,” Sarkisian said. “I knew that they had some good shooters, but I just went out and did what I had to do. I am really grateful with the guys and the defense they have in front of me. I don’t want to brag, but I think we have the best defense out there.”

Los Altos, which placed second in the Hacienda League, had trouble converting its shots all match. Over the final three quarters, the Conquerors scored just four goals on 28 attempts.
While the Glendale defense was doing its thing, Momdzhyan was frustrating the Conquerors with his physical play around the net. Despite being continually hounded and double-teamed, Momdzhyan was able to get his shot off with regularity.

Momdzhyan said he’s used to dealing with physical opponents.

“I just know they’re just trying to get under my skin,” he said. “I just have to fight through and do my best to get the shot. I just have to keep my mindset and try not to get too overly aggressive.”

Momdzhyan scored three of Glendale’s four goals in the first quarter to give his team a two-goal lead. He also tallied the lone goal by either team in the second and had two of three in the third, as the Nitros increased their advantage to four heading into the fourth.

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