Among the luxuries John Spurgeon enjoyed this season while coaching a talented and veteran Buchanan High boys soccer team with championship pedigree was a player he never had to worry about coming off the field.
Or ever slowing down while on it.
Not when on the attack. Not when working to get the ball back from an opponent.
Bears senior forward Ryan Arkelian, as Spurgeon put it, simply never stops.
“He was the engine,” Spurgeon said. “There is not one player in the Valley that has the fitness he has. He’s relentless. He was the key for us.”
Arkelian helped put Buchanan on the national soccer map by scoring a team-leading 15 goals to go along with 15 assists (he had a hand in 45% of the team’s 67 goals) as the Bears went 21-3-1 while winning a prestigious tournament in Southern California, the Tri-River Athletic Conference and the Central Section Division I title.
The Bee’s Player of the Year credited his performance to the work he put in during the offseason — all the running, biking and weight-training outside of practice.
“You have to work on the things you can control, and stamina is one of them,” Arkelian said. “I think that’s one of the biggest traits that was helpful to me this season.”
Arkelian had two assists and a goal during Buchanan’s march to the championship of the Lotto Western Showcase in San Clemente in December that featured wins over nationally ranked Loyola-Los Angeles, Servite-Santa Ana and Brophy Prep-Arizona.
The title run helped elevate the Bears to as high as a No. 3 national and No. 1 state ranking by topdrawersoccer.com. Buchanan would finish 19th nationally and fifth in the state in those same rankings after reaching the semifinals of the CIF Southern California Regional D-I playoffs. The Bears reached the SoCal Regionals by capturing their second straight section title, and third in four seasons, with a 1-0 overtime victory over Liberty-Bakersfield.
“We were really determined to win back to back this year,” Arkelian said. “A lot of us seniors have been together five, six years. Our experience was the biggest thing. We had a lot of guys who were used to playing at (a championship) level, which was helpful.
“Every game we went out and felt like we had a great shot at winning, even when we went down to San Clemente. It was a ton of fun.”
Arkelian is headed to NCAA Division II Chaminade in Hawaii after a three-year career that produced 29 goals and 33 assists. He scored six goals and had seven assists in what he described as a tentative sophomore season, then had eight goals and 11 assists as a junior that served as a springboard to a senior season where he was named the TRAC’s Offensive Player of the Year.
“The main thing is having confidence when you get the ball in situations where you can put it in the back of the net,” Arkelian said. “As a sophomore, I struggled with that. But as I grew older, and I got a few goals, I felt more confidence and looked for the ball in those situations rather than hide from them. That was the biggest difference this year: I looked for the ball around the net.”