The 18-year-old Tchougounova came to the United States from Kherson, Ukraine in 1993. Water polo is among the popular sports in the Ukraine, along with ice hockey and figure skating.
However, she didn't grasp the fundamentals of water polo until she arrived in the United States. Jimi Campillo, who is Tchougounova's stepfather and coach of Pasadena-based Rose Bowl Aquatics, worked with her to learn the basics.
Crescenta Valley afforded the 6-foot Tchougounova the chance last season to become an impact player for a program steeped in tradition. She responded by finishing with 69 goals, 57 steals and 11 assists to earn all-league honors.
That turned out to be quite a first impression.
"I can grip and hold a girls' ball, which is smaller than the boys' ball," said Tchougounova, who was an All-CIF selection last season. "It's an advantage to having long fingers and that made it easy for me to steal and shoot the ball.
"[My stepfather] told me to imagine there being a glass shield in front of me and trying to break it with the ball.
"I wasn't exposed to water polo in the Ukraine and [Campillo] got me playing it when I was in the eighth grade. I didn't like water polo at first and then I played volleyball [at Crescenta Valley]. I started to play water polo again because I missed it."
The Falcons are glad that Tchougounova chose to venture back to water polo.
Ashley Masters, who is a senior driver, said Tchougounova's talent amazed the Falcons.
"She was a huge asset in terms of talent," Masters said. "I don't know where she got it from.
"Her shots are very powerful and accurate. She's got a good eye and knows where she needs to be because timing is a big thing."
Tchougounova fit right in with stars such as Kristin McLaughlin, Karleen Wray, Minah Kim and Rebecca Kandilian.