First published in the Oct. 16 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
Glendale High School hosted Burbank in a battle of the last two squads undefeated in Pacific League boys’ water polo play, so the stakes were high and the players amped up.
In a competitive contest, the visiting Bulldogs hung the first league defeat on the Nitros, 16-11, Thursday afternoon at the Glendale Aquatics Center with the league championships on the horizon. It was the Bulldogs’ 12th straight win.
“It was intense. Both teams were going at it. There was back and forth in the water. There were big goal runs, then cutting the lead down,” Burbank coach David Arakelyan said. “I’d say it was one of our toughest games in our league [play].”
Burbank held a narrow 9-8 lead entering the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs started by netting two goals in the first 1:52. First, the Bulldogs passed the ball around until it reached Robert Kharazyan, who converted from close range for a goal. Forty-six seconds later, the visitors were awarded a penalty shot, which Johnny Agazaryan scored for a three-goal cushion.
“[Penalty shots are] definitely nerve-racking, but you’ve basically got to shut off the brain and just focus on you and the goalie,” Agazaryan said.
The Nitros came right back with two goals in 35 seconds. First, Arthur Lazaryan converted a penalty shot from the five-meter mark, skipping it past the right of the goalie. Soon after, up a player due to a Bulldog exclusion, Saren Vardanyan skipped a ball in from up top to trim the margin to one at 11-10.
Undeterred, Burbank (15-2 overall record, 4-0 in league) responded with another pair of goals. The first came 35 seconds after the Vardanyan goal with a one-swimmer advantage, when Andranik Bilbulyan scored. Soon after, Onick Ambarstumyan passed down the middle to Kharazyan, who put it away from point blank.
Glendale (14-11 overall, 4-1 league) scored its final goal with 2:52 to go when Rudolf Hovhannisyan caught a pass from the left in the middle of the pool and scored.
After that, the Nitros seemed to lose some steam and Burbank scored three more in the final 1:45. Johnny Agazaryan converted another five-meter shot for the last of his game-high seven goals. Next, Avetik Barsegyan assisted Zack Gezalyan, whose shot careened off the cage and in. Finally, a Barsegyan pass set up Danny Agazaryan, whose goal set the final margin.
Along with Johnny Agazaryan’s seven goals, Kharazyan scored three. Danny Agazaryan and Gezalyan had two apiece, and Hayk Atanasyan and Bilbulyan each scored once.
Glendale’s Tigran Megroyan, Arthur Lazaryan and Vardanyan shared team-high honors with two goals apiece. Hamlet Tadevosyan and Robert Lazaryan each netted one.
It was a strong opening period for the hosts, after which Glendale led 3-1. After Johnny Agazaryan opened the scoring at the 5:54 mark with the first of his four successful penalty shot conversions, the Nitros netted the next three goals from the flow of play. Megroyan had the first two, one from the left side and the next off an assist from Hovhannisyan. The final goal of the first came with 41 seconds left when Arthur Lazaryan scored from in close off a pass from Gregory Carrillo.
“We were down after the first quarter, but after that pep talk from Coach, something clicked,” Johnny Agazaryan said.
The tide turned in the second quarter, when the visitors rattled off the first four goals and ended up winning the frame, 6-2, for a 16-11 lead at the break. Kharazyan, Danny Agazaryan, Atanasyan and Johnny Agazaryan accounted for the 4-0 run.
The Nitros put in the next two, both with a one-player advantage, thanks to Tadevosyan and Robert Lazaryan. Gezalyan then scored from long distance for the Bulldogs, followed by a score from even longer distance by Johnny Agazaryan, who fired one in from the middle of the pool as the horn sounded, ending the half.
The Nitros outscored Burbank in the third quarter 3-2 to go into the fourth trailing by one.
“Now that we have played against [Burbank], we know what they are capable of,” Glendale coach Narek Vardanian said. “We know what we need to do better and we are looking forward to the opportunity to play them [in a possible rematch in the league championship tournament].”