First published in the Dec. 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The 2021-22 season for girls’ high school basketball has begun, and rival high schools Burbank and Burroughs have taken to the court for a new campaign.
Each of the last two seasons, the Bears have advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division IIAA semifinals.
However, JBHS recently graduated five seniors, including its top three scorers from last season. This season’s squad will be considerably less experienced.
“We are a young team [and a challenge will be our] inexperience,” Bears coach Vicky Oganyan said. “We will take our lumps as we learn from our mistakes.”
Despite the reload, the coach sees the promise of a solid defensive squad and a cohesive unit overall. Oganyan said that the team’s strengths include being “very team-oriented and [we have] unselfish players.”
The Bears have “quickness on the court, which can help us pressure the ball more than we have in the past,” she added.
Burroughs is not without a core of seasoned players, all of whom were on the last two seasons’ semifinal teams. Noor Fahs, one of two seniors on the roster, brings a wealth of experience as a four-year starter. Junior Izzy Roderick, who also started last year, is the team’s top returning scorer and led the Bears in rebounding last season. Additionally, juniors Rachel Little and Ivana Razov come in with experience and will be counted on to contribute more this season.
The Bears finished second in the Pacific League in the recent spring season, which was delayed more than four months due to the pandemic. Their only defeat came at the hands of eventual league champion Pasadena, and Burroughs won its final five league games. This year, the Bears’ goal in the league has not changed.
“We always want to compete for the league title,” Oganyan said. “I think our league is always a tough league with many good teams and good coaching.”
The new format of league play, with the schools split into two tiers halfway through the season, may present some extra challenges for the Bears as they develop.
“My teams usually peak in January and February, and now in January and February I am already going to be placed in a particular league group that may not be reflective of where my team really is at that point in time in the season,” Oganyan said.
It will be a season of transition for the Bulldogs with a new face on the sidelines, Associate Head Coach Kris Jabourian.
“Coach [Bruce] Breeden is listed as the head coach, but he is letting me do all the head coaching duties. He will be passing [those] down toward me so he [will] list me as head coach during games. Referees will come up to me,” said Jabourian, who served on the coaching staff at Crescenta Valley for eight years. “It’s my first year being a head varsity coach.”
However, Breeden, who has had multiple stints as the Bulldogs’ head man, will still be right there.
“I told [Breeden] he is on my bench for as long as he wants,” said Jabourian, who attended CV with Breeden’s youngest child.
Jabourian comes in with lofty expectations for the Bulldogs, who have had a sub-.500 record the last two seasons.
“You always have to shoot for the stars. Our main goal is to get back in the playoffs. Burbank has had a five-year drought of no playoffs and we are looking to make it to the playoffs,” Jabourian said. “We are looking for a [Pacific] League title and a playoff berth.”
One of the Bulldogs’ strengths looks to be their size, led by senior Tabitha Cruz, who is listed at 6’1”. In total, the Bulldogs have five players listed at 5’9” and above.
“We’re dominant in size and we are looking to use and abuse that,” Jabourian said.
The Bulldogs will be bringing experience to the court, with four seniors in the starting lineup. Specifically, Jabourian cites Cruz, Karen Casillas and Alle Tarvirdi as those expected to be keys to success. Tarvirdi, Emily Megerdichian and Christina Ohanians, all seniors, will serve as captains. First off the bench will often be sophomore Nikaela Damasen, who plays point guard.
Jabourian said the Pacific League is extremely competitive and wide open for multiple teams to win, including the crosstown rival Burroughs Bears, despite their youth.
“[Coach Oganyan] is insane,” Jabourian said. “No matter if she is up or down, she will figure out a way to win basketball games.”
Regardless of results, the Bulldogs will have words to play by throughout the season.
“Always, always, always play hard and have fun,” Jabourian said. “If you’re not playing hard, are you having fun, and if you’re not having fun, are you actually playing hard?”