BURBANK — The first year with a new water polo coach, something both the Burroughs High and Burbank boys' teams experienced last season, inevitably involves a learning curve.
It was a rocky start last season for Indians coach and Burroughs graduate Michael Singhanate. But that was last year and for the upcoming season, Singhanate returns with an eye to the future.
"Overall, our team this year shows much potential and promise for this season, as well as the following season," said Singhanate, a 2008 graduate. "It's a team that I'm excited to work with. Having learned much from last year, I believe that there's much we can and will improve this year."
Last season, Bulldogs Coach Zeb Jenkins made the move up from assistant and led his squad back to the playoffs. However, he did not return. By summer, the Bulldogs had a succession plan well in place, with Jenkins' assistant, Jarrod Przebieda, prepped for the job.
However, in just the last three weeks, the plan fell apart when Przebieda, who also headed the swim team, found new employment, making it impossible for him to coach. So, with the season looming, in stepped Gilbert Raposa, a decorated swimmer who was Przebieda's assistant swim coach. He takes the reins despite having limited experience with water polo and limited knowledge of who he will put in the pool.
"To be honest, I don't really know what to expect," Raposa said. "This job sort of has just landed in my lap."
What both schools will be dealing with is a new division, as the CIF Southern Section moved the Pacific League from Division V up to Division IV. This happened thanks in no small part to reigning league champion Glendale winning the Division V title last season in its second straight finals berth.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
"I may not have a lot of experience as far as water polo and deep water polo knowledge," Raposa said. "But I feel like I have a pretty good ability to lead people where they want to go."
Raposa will take over at Burbank as its fourth head coach in as many seasons. An Alaska native, Raposa, whose high school swim team won three consecutive state titles, moved to the area in 2005 to finish his swimming career as a decorated member of the Pasadena City College squad, where he briefly played water polo in an effort to stay in condition for swim season.
"I come from a swimming background. I grew up swimming and swimming has been my life," Raposa said. "I was involved in the summer program for swim, but also the summer program for water polo because the head coach of swimming at the time, Jarrod, came from a water polo background. Jarrod found a new job that doesn't allow him to coach and that kind of came all of a sudden. Naturally, since I was already working with the students doing water polo, I kind of took over that. I guess that is kind of where we're at right now."
Undoubtedly, this season's circumstances and the sudden change add a higher level of difficulty for the Bulldogs, who finished fourth in league last season and lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs. On a positive note, Raposa does see some advantages as his entrance into a new world corresponds with the influx of youth in the pool.
"One thing that is pretty nice is that we have a lot of younger kids," Raposa said. "We don't have very many seniors, so the team, specifically the varsity team, we have an opportunity to grow together."
However, Raposa will still be relying on those who have come back to help him along the way as he learns the sport.
"Some of these students have taken upon themselves to train with club teams and further their understanding of water polo, further their conditioning, stuff like that," Raposa said. "So, I'm looking to them to help with the program. [Junior] Artur Mheryan is one of them."
Whatever happens, look for the Bulldogs to not have issues in terms of their conditioning.
"If there is anything I know, it is swimming," Raposa said. "and swimming is an essential part of water polo, whether the athletes like it or not."
In his first year, Singhanate inherited a squad that had reached the postseason for the first time in seven years the season before. However, in 2013 the Indians finished with a sub-.500 record and missed the playoffs.
"One of the biggest things I've come to learn from year one is putting more trust and confidence into our younger players; that way we'll be able to sustain and build our program for years to come," said Singhanate, who will be assisted by Jacob Cook.
This season, Burroughs is expecting a core of four seniors to lead the way in utility Brian Beckman, utility Jimmy Martin, two-meter defender Brandon Flores and Adrian Sosa, who will take over in goal after Burroughs lost last year's keeper, Dillon Wiegand, to graduation.
"They're all seniors who I believe are ready to step up and show what they've learned during their high school career," Singhanate said.
The Indians will also have an influx of talent up from the junior varsity level in junior Colin Paige and sophomores Nate Armstrong and Gerry Solano. Entirely new to the program will be freshman JJ Ambartsumyan, who arrives in the pool at Burroughs with Rose Bowl Water Polo Club experience.
"[Ambartsumyan] brings years of experience to the table and I believe he'll have plenty to offer to the team in his coming four years," Singhanate said.
The Pacific League was very rough on the Indians last season, which saw them win just one league contest, so there is ample room for improvement.
"Our goals for this season are to improve," Singhanate said. "Hopefully, advancing forward in our league standings from where we stood at the end of last season. We came together and decided what our biggest flaws were last year and are looking to fix those, hopefully bringing some wins along with us."
As for a possible return to the postseason, Singhanate isn't setting limits on his squad.
"Moving up to Division IV doesn't change much for us," he said. "We're still up against the same competition during league that we had last year, but we are definitely gunning for some postseason action to see what our new division has to offer.
"We have a better outlook and have switched up our training to grab those much-needed wins for this season."