Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank’s Alec Chalkdzhyan, Lean, Mean, Saving Machine

Though his high school water polo career is concluded, the senior hopes to play at the next level.

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By Rick Assad

It’s the last line of defense and extremely vital that the position is manned by someone who excels if the team hopes to be super-competitive.

Burbank High senior goaltender Alec Chalkdzhyan fits this notion and after being in net for three years and having played water polo for eight years, has been a three-time Pacific League champion.

“I was able to play so well due to my years of experience, which helped with my quick decision-making and shot-blocking skills,” said the top net keeper in the league. “To excel, I focused on my game awareness to position myself and communicate with my team successfully.”

Chalkdzhyan explained what it takes to do well in the pool and was a lynchpin as Burbank went 22-11 in all matches and 8-2 in league this season.

“To succeed as a goalie, you need to be mentally tough because most of the pressure is on you, and you can’t let the pressure break you,” he pointed out.

Under former Burroughs standout scorer David Arakelyan, the current Burbank coach, the Bulldogs have enjoyed a remarkable run of success.

This campaign, the Bulldogs reached the CIF Southern Section Division VI second round after beating Redondo Union 8-3 in the opening round and then losing to Portola 14-13.

Burbank goalie Alec Chalkdzhyan set a new standard for excellence during his tenure. (Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

After getting upset by Burroughs in the regular-season league finale, Burbank then regrouped and emerged with the league crown after beating Crescenta Valley 6-5.

The close scores are indicative of how well the team played but also show Chalkdzhyan’s value.

Chalkdzhyan, who has applied to UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Davis, USC, Pepperdine, San Diego State, Loyola Marymount and Cal State Northridge, where he hopes to continue his water polo career, gives an enormous amount of credit for his blossoming to Arakelyan.

“My team did well this season, owing to our coach,” he said. “Without our coach, we wouldn’t be as united as a team as we are now.”

Arakelyan likewise paid tribute to Chalkdzhyan.

“Alec is one of the most talented goalkeepers to ever come through our program,” he said. “He is a three-time league champion and has been the backbone of our defense for the last two years.”

Physically imposing at 6-foot-3 and with long arms, Chalkdzhyan has the net covered, literally and figuratively.

“Not only does he have great size in goal, he does a very good job positioning himself,” Arakelyan added. “He’s a hard guy to score on. I’m very proud of the athlete he’s grown into and out of the water. We’re definitely going to miss him, and we hope to see him continue playing at the next level.”

Chalkdzhyan stood out but always made sure he was ready and prepared for whatever the opponent threw at him, but insisted he was always heavily assisted by his teammates.

“There were times I felt like I was going to play great, but it was because of the energy from my team and how we got motivated to play well and play off each other’s momentum,” he said.

The preparation for a match was mostly the same for Chalkdzhyan.

Standing 6-3 and with long arms, it was a tough task to score against Burbank senior goalie Alec Chalkdzhyan. (Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

“I tried not to eat too much before a game, to be light in the water,” he said. “I also listen to music while stretching. Most matches were the same but sometimes I didn’t listen to music to talk about strategy with my team.”

It wasn’t always evident before the match how Chalkdzhyan was going to play, but he was always confident.

“If I had a poor match, I would try to get input from coaches and try to see what I did wrong, and what I did right,” he explained. “But I also kept a positive attitude and tried not to dwell on past mistakes and just learn from them.”

Chalkdzhyan noted the game that stood out is his career.

“The biggest match and most important match I’ve played was probably the 2023 Pacific League finals,” he said. “Being the last defender on the team definitely leaves me with a lot of pressure, but feels amazing when you save your team and be clutch, especially in big games like the league finals.”

Like many athletes who triumph, they are self-driven and envision a positive outcome.

“Although I received tons of support from my coach, what motivated me the most was my passion for the sport,” he said. “I get a sense of purpose every time I get in the water.”

One important goal was not met by the Bulldogs this season and that’s winning the CIF banner.

“Although we didn’t manage to win a CIF title, we definitely accomplished everything we wanted,” Chalkdzhyan admitted. “After an upset loss to Burroughs, everyone in our league thought we were finished and had no chance of winning the league, but we proved them wrong and came out in first place.”

Nothing can change that or wipe out all the friendships cemented by all the practice hours and games played by Chalkdzhyan and his teammates.

“What I will remember most is my team and the great memories we’ve made,” he offered. “I’ve never gone through so many ups and downs with the same people before. Us experiencing being at our lowest and then coming out on top to keep our streak of winning league going makes it so much more memorable.”