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Different roads lead to the same success

Erik Boal

They took completely different paths to get to the seventh annual San

Gabriel Valley Hall of Fame All-Star girls’ basketball game, but the

end result was the same for seniors Christine Kepenekian and Jennae

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Peoples.

Kepenekian, a three-time Leader All-Area selection -- including

Player of the Year in 2001 -- from Burbank, took the more

conventional, less stressful route to competing in Saturday night’s

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game at Pasadena Blair High.

And then there was Peoples of Bellarmine-Jefferson, who didn’t

arrive in Southern California until eight hours prior to tipoff after

spending three days at the University of Massachusetts on a

recruiting trip. Peoples didn’t expect to play for the West squad

because she didn’t attend any of the team’s three practices during

the week.

But she did, tired legs and all, teaming with Kepenekian to score

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19 points, as the West posted a convincing 95-75 victory against an

East squad that featured players from CIF Southern Section finalists

La Puente Bishop Amat (Division IIIA) and Santa Fe Springs St. Paul

(Division IVAA).

“I wasn’t planning to play because they told me [because I hadn’t

attended any practices] I was replaced, so I just brought my jersey

[to be introduced],” said Peoples, a two-time All-Area selection, who

arrived at Los Angeles International Airport at 11 a.m. and attended

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a practice for her club team from noon to 2 p.m. near Hollywood.

“But then they told me I could play, so my mom had to run over to

Foot Locker and buy me some shorts, new shoes and a pair of socks.

“My legs were dead and my shot was off, but I had a good time.”

Peoples -- who was an first-team All-CIF Division IVA selection

for the Guards this season -- played 12 minutes 19 seconds of the

40-minute contest, connecting on two of five field-goal attempts and

two of four free throws to finish with six points. She also grabbed

three rebounds.

But it was Kepenekian who stole the show, both in the scoring and

rebounding departments, en route to game most-valuable-player honors.

In 15:09 of playing time, Kepenekian tallied a team-high 13 points

-- Santa Fe’s Desirae Martinez had 14 for the East -- and a game-high

12 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

"[Being selected MVP] was an honor and it means a lot to me

because it shows that I made a difference on the court, a difference

between our team winning and losing,” said Kepenekian, who made four

of 12 field goals, including a three-pointer, and was four of four

from the free-throw line.

“My goal was pretty much to do well defensively and to rebound

well. A lot of my points came on just getting putbacks.”

Kepenekian, who was forced to carry the scoring, rebounding and

defensive load for the past three seasons at Burbank, welcomed the

opportunity to be surrounded by such versatile, well-rounded

teammates, including fellow All-Area honorees Ani Arutyunyan from

Hoover, Natasha Belou of Crescenta Valley and Kim Gilmour of La

Canada.

“I had a lot of confidence in my teammates and that took a lot of

pressure off of me,” said Kepenekian, who scored five points during a

9-0 West run late in the second quarter, which gave her squad a 35-30

lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish.

“Because the pressure wasn’t all on me, it allowed me to get my

teammates involved early and then play with a little more freedom

later on.”

Kepenekian, who also advanced to the final of the halftime

three-point contest, scored only four points in the second half, but

it didn’t matter, because the rest of her teammates amassed 54,

including eight of their 12 three-pointers to lead by as many as 25

late in the contest.

After making seven of 15 three-point attempts in the preliminary

round of the three-point contest, Kepenekian connected on just two in

the final, losing to West Covina South Hills’ Kristine Yee, who,

after making eight in the prelims, hit six to win the competition.

Kepenekian and Peoples, who are good friends, get one more chance

to play together before they move on to college. At 5 p.m. Saturday,

they will compete for the East team in the Battle of the Valley

All-Star game at Cal State Northridge.

The game features graduating seniors from San Fernando, Santa

Clarita, Conejo and Simi valleys.


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