By Rick Assad
There is a different vibe, a different attitude, a different sense of pride around the Burbank High boys’ water polo team.
For a number of years, the Bulldogs were at best slightly above average and sometimes not even that.
Not any more. Now they’re good and at times very good and they hope to continue this trend.
It’s not easy to put an exact finger on what changed, but certainly some of the new attitude and feeling has to do with David Arakelayn, the coach and former standout at rival Burroughs and later Los Angeles Valley College.
Arakelayn has instilled a keen work ethic, dedication and instead of playing for yourself, now it’s about playing for the team.
Through 16 matches, the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division V, have compiled a 14-2 record and are 3-0 in the Pacific League after handing host Hoover a 10-6 setback on Tuesday.
“We got really good play from our goalies today. I would say offensively we still have some things to work on because we had a lot of opportunities that we could have put away, but at the end of the day, a win’s a win,” Arakelyan said. “Keeping a team like Hoover under five, six goals is very good for us.”
Burbank, which is now riding an 11-match winning streak, never trailed in the match after racing to a 4-1 advantage heading to the second period and marched ahead 6-2 at the intermission.
Arakelyan’s main emphasis is defense and it shined against the Tornadoes.
“Defense is key and I think we proved that today,” he said. “Defense was awesome. I was very happy with them.”
Arakelyan added: “They’re getting after it. Keeping a team like Hoover under three, four goals in three quarters is a huge accomplishment for us.”
The defense was swarming all afternoon.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” Arakelyan said of what he believes is the team’s strongest asset. “That’s a big reason why this program has really turned around because we’ve shifted the emphasis of the game on defense.”
The visitors outscored the Tornadoes 3-1 in the third frame and saw Hoover score three goals in the fourth quarter compared to one for the Bulldogs.
Pacing Burbank were Johnny Agazaryan and Zack Gezalyan with four goals each while Robert Kharazyan added two tallies.
Starting goalie Narek Galamdaryan was sensational during his time in the pool as he blocked at least a half-dozen shots.
Christian Lazaryan didn’t play as long, about a quarter of the match, but was also outstanding in the minutes he was in the water.
Leading the Hoover (6-11 and 2-2 in league play) charge was Branden Babaei, a senior captain who poured in three goals, including two in the fourth period.
The match began with the Bulldogs securing a 4-0 lead on goals from Agazaryan that made it 1-0 on a 10-yard penalty shot with 5:12 left in the initial frame and 4-0 on a six-foot follow-up with 31.1 seconds remaining.
Gezalyan’s scores came from 12 feet with 4:47 on the clock for a 2-0 lead and 32 seconds later for a 3-0 cushion after a nine-yard toss.
In the second frame, Gezalyan’s seven-foot strike with 6:33 showing before halftime extended Burbank’s advantage to 5-1 and Agazaryan’s 12-footer with 4:23 left made it 6-2.
Hoover’s goals came from sophomore Michael Arabian on a 16-footer with six seconds left in the opening stanza that cut Burbank’s lead to 4-1 and Babaei’s short-range dart with 5:27 remaining on the ticker in the second period that sliced the lead to 5-2.
Burbank outshot Hoover 7-5 in the first period and each school was able to get off seven attempts in the second quarter.
The third quarter scoring began with a seven-foot, back-handed shot from Kharazyan with 6:08 left for a 7-2 cushion.
Twenty-nine seconds later Gezalyan located the back of the net from nine feet for an 8-2 lead.
Burbank outshot Hoover 6-3 in the third period and marched in front 9-3 on a four-foot blast from Kharazyan as 4:56 remained in the quarter.
Hoover’s only goal was a seven-footer at 5:12 from senior captain Hayk Yengibaryan that trimmed the lead to 8-3.
Burbank’s only score in the fourth period came with 31.6 seconds left and was a five-footer from Agazaryan that made it 10-5.
The Tornadoes’ outshot the Bulldogs 10-6 in the fourth period and had goals from junior Menua Iskandaryan on an nine-footer with 6:34 left that made it 9-4.
Babaei’s eight-footer with 1:21 on the ticker made it 9-5 and Babaei’s tally made it a four-goal deficit.