First published in the Dec. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
It’s back to work for the girls’ soccer teams at Burbank and Burroughs high schools, and this season promises to be a little more familiar than the COVID-shortened spring campaign.
“I know the girls are thrilled to be back together and to be able to train and practice as a group. It’s nice to have some normalcy for them,” Burroughs coach Brady Riggs said. “I know from their standpoint they’re really happy to be able to do this again, something we love to do.”
In a change of pace, Burbank High girls’ soccer is going on the offensive this season.
“In the past we were relying a lot on defense. Now, I think our offense will be better this year,” head coach Pablo Diaz said. “We’re going to try to come out and compete with teams that in the past we were playing kind of defensively. I think we can generate more offense this [season]. That’s one of the biggest differences from teams in the past.”
Slowly, the defense is still evolving.
“Our speed on defense is not where we’d like it to be. It’s something we are going to work with. We’re going to manage the offsides line a little bit lower. The bottom line is we have to adjust strategically to a deficit of speed in the back.”
The Bulldogs have eight seniors on the roster, with a core of four. Seniors Alyssa Mendoza, Calista Espino and Karolyn Pimentel will be counted on to “lead the team mentally.” Playing as a holding midfielder or center back, Arianna Wirtz is another senior the Bulldogs will lean on.
“We have eight seniors; three or four of them will be starters,” Diaz said. “It’s going to be interesting because we have new talent coming in. It seems to be promising, but we haven’t been able to figure out how to integrate the new talent into the program yet.”
One of those newcomers is freshman Isabella “Maneh” Nersesyan.
“[Nersesyan] is extremely skillful with the ball. She takes on players one-on-one without hesitation and she has a shot that is a killer,” Diaz said.
Diaz added that the trio of senior Lani Kanamu, junior Zara Garcia and sophomore Sophie Peek will serve as “our foundations, our anchors.” Kanamu will be the team captain: “She holds the team together.”
The new scheduling format in the Pacific League this season separates the teams into two tiers based on record at the midway point. Then each tier plays exclusively against their own members. This may open opportunity for a wild card playoff berth for the team finishing at the top of the second tier.
“If we can squeeze into one of the brackets where we can compete better, I guess we’re going to have a better record at the end of the season and hopefully make playoffs,” Diaz, whose team has finished in the bottom half of the league in the last several campaigns, said.
Simplicity and consistency is the name of the game for Burroughs.
“Basically, our day-to-day goal is to play good soccer,” Riggs, who took over the program in 2013, said. “It seems like a silly goal, but, if we can do that, we can punch above our weight a little bit.”
Playing “good soccer” will require the Bears to have fortitude on the pitch.
“Good soccer means possession, it means teamwork, it means that we don’t give the ball away cheaply,” Riggs said. “We try to play out of the back, which creates opportunities for other teams that press us, but if we do that, and do that well, we can beat teams with more talent than we do. It does require a lot of courage because we can turn the ball over in our own half and look pretty silly, but in the long run, if we do it well, that is how we beat teams that have more talent than we do.”
It boils down to this: “Just keep the ball. It’s our ball and we want to have it.”
Anchoring the backline will be senior captain Charlotte Sanchez. Senior midfielder Samantha Valencia has significant club experience and is also a captain. In central midfield will be captain Julia Narmore, a junior who Riggs says is “our most technical player in the program right now. We expect a lot of offense to go through Julia. [She is] so smart [with a] great soccer IQ.” The other captain is junior Kelani Roy.
Versatile senior Katy Sinardi will be “the inspirational force on this team.”
Freshman Quiana Laughlin is slotted to start at center forward and has “a real sense for the goal and can put the ball in the net.” Sophomore Nadia Aguilar will also play a role up front.
Burroughs has won the Pacific League once in the past 26 years, in 2019, and the Bears want to do it again their way.
“I think everyone in the league knows how we play,” he said. “We’re pretty much an open book. We’re going to play out of the back. We’re going to challenge you to press us. We’re going to try to pass around you and, if we can do that, you are going to pay for your press.”