Nearly unstoppable

BURBANK HIGH -- Playing in the tough Foothill League, the Burbank

High girls' basketball team hasn't exactly been able to strike fear

in its opponents the past few years.

However, when it comes to the Bulldogs' top player -- Christine

Kepenekian -- she has been able to rattle her share of teams, as well

as cause headaches for more than a few coaches.

Ask Valencia Coach Jerry Mike about the 5-foot-7 senior and his

mind races back to the night of Jan. 17, when Kepenekian's long

three-pointer at the buzzer was the difference in a 52-49 Viking home

loss to the Bulldogs.

"Up until that point, we had done a pretty good job on Christine.

But she is so strong that we tried to deny her the ball on that last

play, but couldn't. And she is so skilled that she takes one dribble

on a cross-over and then hits a big shot that wins the game for them,

despite being double-teamed," Mike said.

"I think Christine is a very strong and talented offensive player

and she is easily one of the best players we face every year."

Despite her last-second heroics, Burbank Coach Ricky Hawthorne

points out Kepenekian's 17 points and 13 rebounds against Valencia

was not one of her better outings.

A better Kepenekian game might be more like the 40 points she

scored Dec. 26 against Van Nuys Montclair Prep -- and USC-bound

senior Eshaya Murphy -- as the Bulldogs upset the Mounties, 61-58, in

a Bellarmine-Jefferson Holiday Classic game.

In the Montclair Prep game, and other games where everything is

clicking for Kepenekian and her teammates, she said she gets so

caught up in the action that she has no idea what her statistics are

until the game is over.

"But no matter how many, or how few, points I score, nothing

matters unless the team wins. The success of the team always comes

first with me," said Kepenekian, who was the Leader All-Area Player

of the Year as a sophomore.

"Even though I was scoring a lot of points the last couple of

years, we weren't winning, and the games weren't near as much fun as

they are now. We have great chemistry this year and we have a lot of

fun together on, and off, the court."

Prior to Friday's Foothill League game against Saugus, the

17-year-old Kepenekian averaged 24.8 points and 13 rebounds a game.

She also collects five assists and five steals a contest.

Kepenekian hasn't been stopped by any team this season. In 21

games, she has scored in double figures 20 times. In a league game

Jan. 10 against Saugus, she suffered an ankle injury that sidelined

her after scoring two points.

The Bulldogs are 12-9, 1-4 in league. But even if Burbank doesn't

finish among the top three league teams -- earning an automatic CIF

Southern Section playoff berth -- it has already reached the 11-win

plateau needed to apply for an at-large postseason spot.

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It hasn't always been a joy putting the ball in the basket for

Kepenekian. In fact, it wasn't love at first sight when it came to

basketball, as she was introduced to the sport 10 years ago when her

father set up a hoop in the driveway of their North Hollywood home.

However, by the time her family moved to Burbank a few years

later, she was hooked, and nothing was going to come between her and

the game.

Hard work and dedication has helped make her a great shooter, and

a player who is versatile enough to play every position. But it might

surprise some that scoring is not Kepenekian's favorite part of the

game. Instead, she finds rebounding and playing tough defense more

fulfilling.

With a wealth of skills, one thing Kepenekian wasn't able to do

before this season is solve the woes of the Bulldogs as a team. In

years past, Kepenekian's exploits would usually be overshadowed by

Burbank's losses.

"That's where Christine has grown the most as a person. In the

past, she would do everything you could ask of a player, and we would

lose, and it was really wearing her down," Hawthorne said. "But this

year, the other girls are really stepping up and playing to their

ability, which takes a lot of pressure off of Christine.

"But when we need to have her step up and make a big play, like at

the end of the Valencia game, she's so strong-willed that nobody

could deny her the ball, or her shot. And the result was one of our

biggest wins of the season."

While Kepenekian is making a name for herself as one of the better

local players, she is still not sure how the notoriety translates to

helping her land at a college next season. She is still deciding if

she is better suited for a four-year program or a community college

team.

"People talk to me about playing ball in college all the time, but

I'm just weighing my options and trying to make the decision that is

best for me and best for my future," said Kepenekian, who has a 3.6

grade-point average.

"I would much rather play at one of the local junior colleges and

get my general education classes out of the way, rather than try and

walk on at a four-year school not get much playing time."

With at least four games left in the high school season -- and

maybe more if the Bulldogs advance to the playoffs -- Kepenekian

wants to end her career on a high note, for her, and for her

teammates.

Kepenekian likely has a lot more scoring left to do, and maybe

even some more heroics that will have opposing coaches reaching for

the Excedrin.

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