First published in the Oct. 23 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
It’s always just that much bigger of a game when rivals Glendale and Hoover clash in the pool for boys’ water polo city bragging rights, and sometimes nerves can play a role.
At times it may not have been a thing of beauty, but the host Nitros did what they needed to do to defeat the Tornados, 11-7, in Pacific League play Thursday afternoon at the Glendale Aquatics Center to cap the regular season for both squads.
“We were just really nervous. It is the first time we have hosted them at this pool,” Glendale coach Narek Vardanian said. “We played really nervous and I don’t know if [Hoover] did too. It was a messy game on both sides. I thought the refs were letting them play a little bit more so it was more of an aggressive game. It wasn’t as polished as I know it could have been, but it’s a win. I’m very proud of the guys.”
It was the Nitros’ first victory against Hoover (6-13, 2-4) since 2014, covering the entirety of Vardanian’s tenure as head coach at the school.
“It was nerve-racking, to say the least,” Nitro Rudolf Hovhannisyan said. “I think [Hoover] was on a six-game win streak against us and this is year we broke it.”
Hovhannisyan and Tigran Megroyan shared team-high honors with three goals apiece for Glendale (15-11 overall record, 5-1 in league). Gevorg Choginyan netted two while Gregory Carrillo, Hamlet Tadevosyan and Saren Vardanyan each tallied one.
“On offense, I think we looked a little bit hesitant,” Vardanian said. “People didn’t want to make a mistake.”
Hoover was led in scoring by Alex Orujian’s three goals. Branden Babaei scored two while Raffi Gevorgyan and Hayk Yengibaryan each had one.
The teams traded goals throughout the first period. Glendale won the opening sprint and scored 23 seconds in on a goal by Vardanyan.
The next time down the pool, Hoover answered with a goal from Orujian.
At the 4:01 mark, Megroyan put the hosts up again, scoring from close range. Hoover tied it up 27 seconds later when Gevorgyan spun away from the defense and fired a backhand shot into the net while facing away from the cage. With 1:24 left, Glendale regained its advantage when Megroyan scored, assisted by Hovhannisyan. However, once again the Tornados tied the contest, with the final goal of the period coming on a successful penalty shot by Babaei to make it 3-3.
The trend continued into the second quarter. Megroyan put the hosts ahead with a goal from long distance 22 seconds in after the Nitros won the opening sprint. However, 28 seconds later, Hoover scored with a goal by Yengibaryan deep in the shot clock.
After that, Glendale scored the next five goals. The first three came in the second, making the score 7-4 at halftime. They came from Tadevosyan on a backhand effort (assisted by Arthur Lazaryan), followed by a score from close range by Hovhannisyan and, finally, a goal from Choginyan with 15 seconds to go.
The run extended into the third quarter with a goal by Megroyan and then one from long distance by Carrillo. Hoover ended the run with 3:32 left on a lob shot by Orujian.
Soon after, with the Tornados up a swimmer due to an exclusion, Orujian further closed the cap with a goal assisted by Gevorgyan. The score was 9-6 going into the final period.
Hoover closed to within two on a breakaway goal by Babaei with 4:10 left.
However, it was Glendale that scored the final two goals. Carrillo assisted Hovhannisyan with 3:06 left before Choginyan skipped in a five-meter shot with 2:28 left.
The Tornados had a chance to score once more in the final seconds. Yengibaryan had possession feet from the goal with the defense sagging off, but instead the senior swam away from the ball as time expired, clearly unhappy with the game’s outcome.
“We are not top four [in the league],” Hoover coach Kevin Witt said. “We are not going to CIF, so that hurts. It’s the first time in a long time.”