Lilit Vardanyan didn’t burst upon the high school girls’ tennis scene two years ago as a freshman at Burbank High. In fact, she had no freshman season at all with the Bulldogs.
Although she was an accomplished junior player, Vardanyan didn’t get a chance to prove herself after the right-handed player was sidelined prior to the season with a right-wrist injury.
Instead of competing with the Burbank team, something she was looking so forward to, Vardanyan was forced to take a physical education class, and was given an activity where she wouldn’t further injure her wrist.
“I was in dance class, and I just hated it,” said Vardanyan, who took more than a year off playing tennis in an attempt to mend her ailing wrist. “It was a really sad time for me. I would be in class and I would be starring into the mirror and telling myself ‘I could be playing tennis right now.’ It would just make me cry.
“And then there was the tutus, I don’t even want to think about that.”
Still hampered by the injury last season, Vardanyan missed some matches and played hurt in others as a sophomore. In the Pacific League tournament, she was relegated to competing in doubles.
“Doubles was fun, but I wish I could have played in singles,” Vardanyan said.
With Vardanyan not at full strength, Burbank finished second in league in 2012 behind champion Arcadia.
Despite her wrist giving her problems every now and then, Vardanyan has enjoyed a wildly successful junior season this year with the Bulldogs. Not only is she steering first-place Burbank toward a Pacific League championship, but she is dominating opponents in the process.
“It has just been an amazing season for me,” Vardanyan said. “Just being a part of this team and just everybody coming together to play as a team has been great. We all pull for each other and cheer each other on.”
With just one match remaining in the regular season — Thursday at home against Glendale — Vardanyan has a 52-1 record, with her lone loss coming against touted singles player Natalia Munoz of Hart High. In addition, she won all six of her sets in two matches against Arcadia.
“Lilit is a good player, and I think the injury she has been suffering with, the wrist, just comes from over-practicing,” Burbank Coach Loi Phan said. “She plays so much; I’ve tried to get her to not play so much.
“You know they have those basketball players who are always practicing and they call them gym rats? Well, Lilit is a court rat because she’s always playing tennis. She just loves it so much that she over-trains sometimes. I try and tell her that it’s not the quantity of the time you practice that you have to worry about, but the quality of your workout.”
Freshman singles player Nicole Merrit has played against Vardanyan this season in practice and seen what her teammate can do against opponents. She said she has nothing but respect for her colleague.
“She is just an amazing player,” Merrit said. “Not only is she a great player, but she is so nice, too. But the most important thing about her is she is so honest and she never tries to cheat.”
Vardanyan might be the most successful player on this year’s Burbank team — ranked No. 5 in CIF Southern Section Division II, but she has had a lot of help lifting the Bulldogs to the top of the league. With the one match remaining, Burbank (13-2, 10-1 in league) is in a first-place tie with Arcadia. Burbank is trying to win the program’s first league championship since 2002, when it was a member of the old Foothill League.
The Bulldogs split their two matches against the Apaches. The team notched its first league win at Arcadia when it beat the hosts, 10-8, on Sept. 17. The Apaches were ranked No. 2 in the division and the Bulldogs were not ranked among the top 10.
The two teams met again Oct. 10 at Burbank, with the Apaches holding on to win by just two games, 9-9 (79-77). However, although the teams split their two contests, Burbank will earn the league’s top spot for the playoffs by way of the 10-8 win if the Bulldogs and Apaches finish tied for the championship.
“After beating them the first time, I was really upset about tying with Arcadia that second time,” senior doubles player Elizabeth Sanchez said. “It was so close; I knew we could have beaten them. But if we can be the No. 1 seed going into playoffs, then it’s not too bad.”
After finishing to Arcadia last season, Phan said he has been impressed with the dedication his Bulldogs have shown this season in their quest for a league crown.
“With this group, I’ve had a lot of them since they were freshman just coming in,” Phan said. “With all of them, I don’t think any of them have missed more than a practice each since they got here. They have been dedicated and they realize the importance of what they are accomplishing this season. They have worked for it, and you can see it in the way that they have played.”
Phan said the squad has benefited greatly with the addition of Merrit. With the freshman playing singles, Phan has had the luxury of shuffling his lineup and moving players around between singles and doubles.
One of those switches involved senior player Meredy Gharabegi, who usually plays singles. In the two Arcadia matches, as well as in contests against Hart and La Cañada, Phan paired up Gharabegi with Sanchez. The move paid dividends, as the tandem went 11-1.
“Because we have Nicole now, it gives [our coach] the opportunity to move players around and put them where we need them most,” Gharabeghi said. “That’s a pretty good thing to have.”
Burbank also has accomplished doubles players in seniors Veronica Mendoza and Gabrielle Markari.
“We just want to finish strong, get the league title and do well in the playoffs,” Mendoza said. “We think we can do that.”