Armen Deirmenjian and Brown University: A Bond Forged by Water Polo

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CAMBRIDGE, MA. Last weekend saw a bittersweet ending to an impressive water polo career at one of the East’s top programs. Two minutes into sudden death overtime — in his final game wearing his school’s colors — Armen Deirmenjian hit the winning shot to give Brown a 19-18 win over St. Francis Brooklyn in the third place game of the 2019 Northeast Water Polo Conference tournament.

brownThat Deirmenjian — a starter and key contributor to Felix Mercado’s program over his four-year tenure — hit the winner would not surprise anyone who has been following Brown polo the last four years. That it came against the Terriers might also have been predictable; for decades the Terriers and the Bears have been bitter Northeast rivals. Having a player of Deirmenjian’s skills and smarts decide yet another contentious game between the two seemed just right.

With career totals of 136 goals, 121 assists and 186 steals, the a senior from Beverly Hills, California’s stats underscore how vital Deirmenjian is on both sides of the ball to Mercado’s program, which averaged 20 wins the last four years but has yet to return to NCAAs after a trip in 2014.

A graduate of Loyola High School, where he played under Erik Healy, and Bruin Water Polo Club, where he was coached by Jason Falitz, now the Associate Head Coach for UCLA men’s program, Deirmenjian is a 5-9 playmaker with an impeccable polo pedigree.

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Armen flanked by parents John and Hasmig. Photo Courtesy: J. Deirmenjian

Immediately following his golden goal against St. Francis, Deirmenjian and Mercado spoke with Swimming World about a moment that represents one of the high points of his Bear career.

– Hitting the game winner in your last match as a Bear seemed entirely appropriate given your career at Brown.

Armen Deirmenjian: This game, we went down early but knew that what we needed to do to succeed. Granted, it took longer than it should have, but I’m really proud of how we fought today. Down 9-5 after a devastating loss yesterday [against Princeton in the NWPC semifinals], that didn’t really sit well on our stomach.

We just wanted to go out on a “W” this season and I’m happy that we did.

– Coach, today we saw the culture here that you’ve created, that your players buy into. I would say this win is a testament to that.

Felix Mercado: I agree. Great leadership every year in and year out. The five seniors that were on the team this year, without a doubt were the perfect example of what this team’s about. And in and out of the water, like I said, yes, I wish I wouldn’t have done something silly to create a penalty but why not win dramatically if we’re going to win, right?

[Brown’s Felix Mercado and Pomona-Pitzer’s Alex Rodriguez: Growing Water Polo]

– Armen, at the end, somebody’s got to be a leader, somebody’s got to take that big shot. And it was you.

Deirmenjian: I noticed that the shot clock winding down. I saw the opening and I just shot it. And granted it went in and we didn’t have to go any longer periods. Thank God!

***

Prior to the game’s dramatic conclusion, Swimming World spoke at halftime of the Brown vs. St. Francis match with John Deirmenjian, Armen’s father. The elder Deirmenjian spoke eloquently and passionately about his son’s desire to succeed at polo despite not being a tall, brawny player. It was also a testament to his son’s connection to the culture that Mercado has created at Brown.

– Your son is at the end of a distinguished career for Brown. Now it’s not about: what’s next in polo, but what memories you and Armen have of a decision to come East and play for a competitive school with a high academic profile.

John Deirmenjian: Well, my son Armen has been playing since he’s seven years old. He started with LA Water Polo with Dusty Litvak [Princeton head men’s coach]. And then when that club split, he went to Rose Bowl and then he was for the last semester, his last season he was at UCLA’s Club because they tried to keep all the Loyola high school boys together because there was no one club at the time for Loyola.

– Why go east to Brown? Why not USC, UCLA or a fantastic small school like Pomona-Pitzer?

Which is where I graduated from — Pomona [College] that is. He was recruited by all of those schools that you just mentioned and it’s funny because I had asked Jovan Vavic at the time because he was also a Loyola parent and because he recruited Armen very heavily.

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Armen in action for Brown. Photo Courtesy: J. Deirmenjian

I remember he had a junior visiting day [at USC], how he had Olympians Thomas Dunstan there. And [Vavic] invited Armen also, and I said, listen, my son isn’t the tallest kid in the pool. Vavic said: I’ve won many national championships with guys under six feet tall.

Armen was recruited by all of the schools [including] the top four [[Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC]. He decided on Brown because he loved the culture there. He liked the academic strengths, and he loved the fact that he could play water polo. He liked the camaraderie of the team. So, that why he decided on coming to Brown. Yes. Pomona would have been great also for him.

– He came to Brown two years after they went to NCAAs. So he missed that wave. And the challenge became how could his program regain its success?

He’s done it individually because he’s a selfless player. He’s not all about shooting the ball in the net. And that’s important, obviously. But he’s about being a team player and it’s about making everybody look good and everybody play well. He encourages people.

His successes have been in making the teams strong and every player look good and every player play well. And yes, we haven’t won the championship, but I think his individual successes have been in the strengths of elevating the team.

And so, this is his last game that he’s playing. He’s 21 years old. He’s been playing for 14 years.

– But does he have a future after polo marked out?

He would like to go into medicine and so he’s premed and he’ll be preparing for the MCATs and then a follow up career in medicine.

– Is that that a family tradition?

Well, I’m a physician. And he has twin sisters who are both in medical school currently. So it’s become a family tradition.

And he would like to maybe do sports medicine. Having been in the sports world all of his life. I think that would be a very logical path for him to take.

– We talked about your Armenian heritage. Adam Krikorian, the U.S. women’s water polo coach, is also from an Armenian family. He’s done pretty well in the sport!

We’ve met Coach Krikorian because when my son started, he was at UCLA. Arman started in the UCLA Bruins Swim Club before he did water polo. So that’s kind of when he started was when coach Krikorian was kind of, I think leaving UCLA and then moving on.

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The Deirmenjian family: Photo Courtesy: John, Christina, Jacqueline, Armen (back row); parents Hasmig and John. Photo Courtesy: J. Deirmenjian

So, we don’t have a direct connection to him. There’s even a ref in California who has our same last name but no relation. So there’s some kind of connection there.

But I think that as far as the Armenian part, there’s a work ethic that is a cultural thing, a survival of success. And Arman kind of by default has kind of continued in that path.

– As parents we try to teach our kids what we think is good — whether they follow or not.

It’s also been kind of heartwarming because several coaches from other teams have come to Arman and congratulate him on such a great career, which is really nice that it seen from the outside also, not just from his internal environment.

So it’s a bittersweet ending. But it’s been a good career for him athletically, and I look forward to seeing his future from here.

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