The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Inside the Lair: Avakian’s NCAA Legacy

George Avakian ’20 poses with a trophy after winning the NCAA Division 1 Water Polo Championship on Dec. 10.

Boys’ water polo alumni George Avakian ’20, a senior on the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) men’s water polo team, won the NCAA Division 1 Water Polo Championship on Dec. 3. The Bears’ 13-10 victory over the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) marks Avakian’s third consecutive NCAA championship. In addition to starting in this year’s game, Avakian played in Cal’s past two championship games coming off the bench as a center. Avakian said he was grateful to contribute to Cal’s numerous water polo achievements.

“I’m really lucky to be a part of a historic program with a lot of tradition,” Avakian said. “The biggest thing is [the] Cal men’s water polo] is more than just a team. It’s a program. Once I’m a part of this program, I’m a part of it for life.”

Before Avakian transferred to the school in his sophomore year to compete for former Aquatics Program Head Brian Flacks ’06, he played at La Cañada High School, starting on varsity his freshman year. Avakian said that despite his skillset, he had to adjust his mentality to fit Flacks’ coaching style once he reached the higher level.

“I was quickly humbled at Harvard-Westlake when [Flacks] started coaching me,” Avakian said. “He taught me discipline and what hard work actually was. He taught me that it took more than just talent to be the best player that I could be. It’s all about the extra work. It’s meeting with the coaches to watch film. It’s the time you put in the weight room.”

Avakian was a prominent player at the school, winning back-to-back California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division 1 Titles in 2018 and 2019 in his junior and senior years. Avakian said learning how to work hard during high school has continued to drive his mentality at the collegiate level.

“I went from one of the best high school programs ever to one of the best college programs ever,” Avakian said. “Going into college, I wasn’t an amateur to being successful or winning. My purpose [now] is to keep training and keep that reputation of winning and success like I did in high school. It’s an important thing for me to carry the [school tradition] up to the next level and remember where I started from.”

Current boys’ water polo program head Jack Grover played Division 1 water polo for UCLA from 2013 to 2017, winning back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015. He returned to UCLA as an assistant coach in 2018 and won another championship in 2020. Grover said that being able to compete at the collegiate level requires a significant amount of dedication.

“If you’re playing water polo on the West Coast and you’re actually competing for championships, [training is] year-round,” Grover said. “You get two weeks off at the beginning of the summer and two weeks off at the end, sometimes. If you don’t have a basic understanding of how to train on a daily basis, it becomes very hard to [be successful] in college. Training hard is non-negotiable. You have to train smart and train efficiently, putting yourself in game situations.”

Before going back to Cal to play for the 2023 season, Avakian returned to his high school program to assist Grover in off-season training. Grover said Avakian’s presence on the pool deck as a distinguished alumni was valuable to players.

“When [Avakian] was here, he’d get in with the centers or play on the perimeter, so he could get a little bit of fitness,” Grover said. “For someone who had already won two [titles] and was on the men’s national team, [Avakian] had every reason to be content. Yet [during the summer], he pushed himself in new ways in every practice that he was in, and wanted to give back. For our guys to [have been] with that [standard], it set a really good example.”

Avakian celebrates in the water after winning the championship Dec. 3.

Goalie James Peace III ’24, who recently committed to play Division 1 water polo at Cal, said Avakian was very receptive to the younger players.

“He’s more than just a great water polo player,” Peace said. “He’s also just a great person overall. He took the time out of his day to come over the summer. One thing about [Avakian] is he’s 6’2’’ and 250 pounds, just absolutely massive and intimidating,but on the inside, he’s really smart, cares a lot about people and works very hard in and out of the pool.”

Although Avakian is a senior, NCAA rules allow some players another year of eligibility because of the pandemic. He said that playing another year will allow him to continue developing his abilities both as an athlete and a leader.

“[Being able to play] a fifth year is really special,” Avakian said. “I could win a [fourth straight championship]. Now that I have four years of college water polo under my belt, I could take that experience and be really good next year. I feel like I was just a freshman not that long ago. All the players who taught me are gone. Now it’s my turn to step up.”

Peace who will join Avakian next year in his fifth year, said he is eager for the opportunity to compete with him for a championship.

“When I was in eighth grade, I always wanted to watch him and the rest of his class play,” Peace said. “I never expected to be possibly playing with [Avakian] because he was just so much older than me. It’s really special to get to play with [him], because [my teammates and I] have always looked up to him. Not only as a center, but as a leader of a championship team and a well-rounded person.”

Likewise, Avakian said he is looking forward to having another alumnus from the school join him at Cal.

“I love how excited [Peace] is to come to Cal,” Avakian said. “It’ll be cool tosee someone where I’m from be with me at the next level. I hope [Peace] comes here with an open mind. It’s going to be fun.”

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