In two weeks, high school athletes will be back in action, as football, boys' water polo, cross-country, girls' volleyball and girls' golf teams get ready to kick off the 2012-13 school year.
As is the case this time every year, anticipation for success is high, and optimism runs rampant among the coaches and athletes who compete at Burbank, Burroughs, Providence and Bellarmine-Jefferson highs.
It is a time to look forward with lofty aspirations and a time to set goals. Before the first athletes hit the courts, take to the pools and the fields, or hit the courses and tracks, anything is possible — including a winning season, and maybe even a CIF Southern Section championship.
The last two seasons, four local teams have advanced to CIF championship contests. Bell-Jeff softball accomplished the feat in 2011 and 2012, the Providence boys' basketball squad also made it to a title game in 2012 and the Burroughs boys' volleyball team was a finalist in 2011. However, despite making it to a championship, none of the four squads was able to take home a title.
Winning CIF crowns has been a difficult task for the area schools the past few decades. In fact, only two championships have been won by area schools in 20 years, and both of them were captured by the Guards' girls' basketball program. A Bryan Camacho-coached squad took the Division V-A crown in 2009 — also winning the city's only state team title in any sport — and Jaclyn Johnson sank a shot at the buzzer in 1997 to lift Bell-Jeff to a IV-A title.
However, those two titles are a rarity. In a span of 37 years — since a Bulldogs squad won a softball crown in 1975 — Burbank-area teams have captured four championships.
Coach Clyde Richards and his Burbank boys' tennis team nailed down a Division III crown in 1993 for the school's first title in eight years.
The Providence baseball team, led by future major-leaguer Jeff Cirillo, won a Small Schools championship in 1986.
At least Burbank, Bell-Jeff and Providence have won titles. Poor Burroughs, a school that has been around since 1948, has never — that's right, NEVER — won a CIF Southern Section team championship.
In 1955, a Bill Flora-coached Indians boys' basketball team did make it to the Major Division championship game, losing to Alhambra, 46-35.
However, the past few decades, very few Indians teams have even made it to a final contest.
Following the Burroughs football team's appearances in Northwestern Division championship games in 1981 and 1987 — it lost both games — just two other squads has been able to qualify. Along with the boys' volleyball team two years ago, the Indians boys' soccer team lost to Bell Gardens, 3-1, in a Division III final in 1994.
There are actually a number of teams that have a legitimate chance to win a CIF championship during the 2012-13 campaign.
At the top of the list is the Providence boys' basketball team. Led by freshman sensation Marcus LoVett Jr., the Pioneers advanced to the Division V-A championship game last season, only to fall to Liberty League foe Holy Martyrs, 65-62.
Behind LoVett, who averaged 31.7 points a game, Providence (26-6) captured its first Liberty League championship in 12 years.
The Pioneers will have most of their key players back from last season, with the exception of standout Patrick Gonzalez, who graduated. If LoVett stays put — there have been rumors about his possible transfer to a number of schools — Providence should find itself back in the title game.
Since it has qualified for the Division VII championship contest the last two seasons, it would be a good bet to expect the Guards to make a return to their third straight title game. However, that task was made more difficult by a recent realignment by the CIF Office. Bell-Jeff will move up to Division VI, where the competition will be inherently more difficult.
But the Guards have their entire team returning, and a year's experience under their belts could help the team compete in the higher division.
Another Bell-Jeff program — girls' basketball — has advanced to at least the playoff quarterfinals for four straight seasons. However, with the graduation of All-CIF standouts Jasmine Smith and Rishonda Napier, and the addition of a new coach, it will likely be difficult for the Guards to win the IV-AA crown.
The Providence girls' basketball team, which advanced to a CIF semifinal game for the first time in school history, also returns most of its key players. Although I wouldn't count out any Pioneers team that is coached by Andrew Bencze, the Pioneers would have a definite uphill battle to capture a Division V-AA title.
Along with its finals appearance two years ago, the Burroughs boys' volleyball squad also made the Division III semifinals in 2012. But the Indians lost some key players to graduation, and although the team should have a solid playoff run, nailing down a CIF crown would be a long shot.
Another long shot would be the Burbank girls' basketball team, which got to the Division I-A semifinals in 2012. But that division is extremely tough, and another deep postseason run is unlikely
The most successful area team could be the Burbank boys' cross-country squad. With their stars back, the Bulldogs could make another appearance in the State Meet, where they placed 11 last season. However, Burbank competes in ultra-tough Division I, where some of the best teams in the state reside. Winning a Division I championship would be a monumental accomplishment.