Glendale High boys' water polo in prime position for CIF

A trip to the CIF Southern Section Division V boys’ water polo semifinals nearly came down to two local teams a year ago.

With Glendale High, a 2012 CIF-SS finalist, returning most of its team and three other local teams vastly improved for another season, it could be a similar story — one that’s told more than once — in 2013.

Nearby Flintridge Prep is also aiming to nab a high seed for playoffs by knocking off perennial power and defending Division V champion Pasadena Poly in the Prep League.

Still, coming off its finest season, Glendale could be in position to be even better than last year. The Nitros graduated two key players from their first-ever team to reach a CIF-SS championship game, but return their centerpiece, Arman Momdzhyan, for his senior season.

The Nitros still have the makings of a championship squad with last year’s experience, an ultimately heartbreaking 12-10 loss to Pasadena Poly after being outscored, 6-1, in the fourth quarter of the CIF-SS championship.

“Our goal is to peak at the end of the season,” fifth-year Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook said. “We have a very talented group and we’re hoping that with what we learned last year we can put that to use through CIF.”

Once again, the offense will run through Momdzhyan, an All-American, All-Area, CIF and Pacific League standout from last year with 136 goals. Returning all-league honorees from last year who are looking to shoulder a bigger offensive load, while maintaining their defensive intensity are juniors Manuk Piloyan (utility) and Artak Arzumanyan (center defender) and sophomore set Levon Gevorkyan.

Glendale, which finished last year at 22-6, 8-0 in league, will again have the luxury of two quality goalkeepers in returning juniors Daniel Sarkisian and David Tiraturyan. Both are fighting for the starting job, but Holbrook said that position could change throughout the year as the team will ride the hot hand.

“We have a very basic game, we’re not planning on changing anything,” said Holbrook, who’s adding to the team’s playbook to give it another edge. “We have fantastic goalies that we will highlight all season long. We’ve got a fantastic offense that will guarantee we put goals in, and our focus is always on defense.”

It was Flintridge Prep that nearly met Glendale in the semifinals before suffering a 17-9 loss to Riverside Poly in the quarters and taking second in the Prep League, behind the eventual CIF-SS champion.

Coming off his finest season at the Rebels’ helm, Dan Hare’s hopes are higher than ever and for good reason. The fourth-year coach returns six field players and 12 seniors, including Jamie Walker, Connor O’Malley, Carlo Sivilotti, Ethan Vandeventer and John Treinen.

The only real hole left from last season is in the cage. Senior Anton Verbinski has changed positions in an attempt to fill that gap, along with junior varsity call-up Alex Hirsch-Marin.

Coming off the busiest summer under Hare’s tenure, the Rebels are looking to build on last year’s runner-up finish in league with their depth.

“Prep always wants to beat Poly, but I think this year we have a shot,” said Hare, whose team went 17-9, 7-3 last year. “I think we will be right up there with Chadwick, which is having a bit of a rebirth. It’s nice having teams like that in the league and area because if we can compete with Poly then we know can compete in CIF on a greater scale.”

In the Pacific League, it could be a battle between the locals for the top three spots, but none are willing to give an inch.

“I think every year, every team says they want to win league and want to win CIF, but this is one that certainly has that potential,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju, who returns seven key players and adds a few other promising players, including Hoover transfer, senior hole/set and all-league honorable mention from a year ago Ryan Moguel. “If we do the things we need to do we can be in the top four [in CIF].”

When Hoover Coach Kevin Witt was asked if he was eyeing a top-three spot in league, he was quick to retort.

“No, I am thinking of winning league,” said Witt, who returns all-league second-teamer Hakop Baghumian and three other key players. “I have never approached any season any differently. I feel like if they work hard and they're disciplined and they're responsible they should be in that league championship game and should give themselves a chance.”

Crescenta Valley (13-15 overall, 5-3 in league), which finished third in league last year behind Burbank and was bounced in the first round of CIF, graduated three all-leaguers from a year ago. Five seniors — goalkeeper George Vine IV, drivers Nate Fernandez and Daniel Park, hole/sets Alexander Trimis and Moguel, who’ll be eligible in October — will look to fill that void and bring along quality juniors Trevor Goddard and Omar Trad.

Witt admitted he’s worked his squad, which almost remains entirely in tact from 2012, hard this year, including a hell week that included six-and-a-half-hour practices.

A press defense anchored by Baghumian, who Witt believes is the best defender in the league, if not CIF and the area, and well-prepared team should be able to compete in league and beyond, the third-year coach said.

Arik Abedi has taken the reins as the senior captain and utility for the Tornadoes, who finished 11-10, 2-4 in league for sixth place, while lefty Narek Sarokhani (senior, attacker) and Nick Ziccardi (sophomore, driver) will both be looked to for their goal-scoring abilities.

While Sakonju feels his team can contend for a league and CIF-SS title, he didn’t go as far to say his Falcons are the favorites. He’ll be in on the CIF Southern Section Division V preseason rankings and didn’t deny the Nitros have his No. 1 vote.

“In the past, we've always been the target, this year I think Glendale is the target,” Sakonju said. “That kind of allows us to focus on our day to day, which is nice.”

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