SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — They described it as one of the best trips of their lives.
It was memorable.
It was thrilling.
It was also devastating.
Burbank High graduate Christine Kepenekian and Arpine Amirkanyan — who have each played for the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Women's Basketball team — had what seemed like a perfect trip to Armenia. They were chosen to play for Armenia's women's national team and led their team to one victory after another in the European Championship Women Division C Tournament in Yerevan.
They were confident they would return home with a title in their hands, as they breezed through group play and their semifinal game.
Their heartbreak came in the final.
Despite Kepenekian's game-high 28 points, Malta defeated Armenia, 74-65, on July 3 to claim the title.
"It was ours," said Amirkanyan, who graduated from Grant High in 2007 and currently plays at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia. "We should've won."
Kepenekian expected to win the game.
"I was really upset," she said. "I'm still really upset. They just outplayed us. I wish it was a series."
Even though she didn't bring home a championship trophy, the former All-Area Player of the Year captured the tournament's most valuable player award after averaging 22 points, seven rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals per game.
But the consummate team player said the MVP award didn't mean as much without the title.
"It doesn't mean anything if you don't win," she said.
Kepenekian made a statement from the opening game, pouring in a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead Armenia to a 98-45 win against Gibraltar on June 29. Amirkanyan had seven points in the triumph.
The duo had a grand audience the next day.
Nearly half a million people in Armenia reportedly watched their national team post a 71-64 victory against Moldova. The game was broadcast on Armenian National Television, which preempted the end of the game in favor of a World Cup match between Paraguay and Japan. But the station received numerous complaints about its decision and opted to replay the basketball game in its entirely later that evening.
"That was unbelievable," said Amirkanyan, who averaged 6.8 points per game in the tournament. "They replayed the entire game at 2 o'clock in the morning."
After the win against Moldova, Kepenekian said she knew her team had a chance to win the title.
"They were a lot bigger than us," she said. "I felt like they were the toughest team in our group."
Armenia's convincing ways continued with a 71-47 triumph against Andorra in its final group game. The top two teams from each group advanced to the semifinals.
Three victories in three days set up a semifinal matchup against Scotland.
A capacity crowd saw Armenia advance to the final with an 86-63 thumping of Scotland. Kepenekian had 25 points and seven rebounds in the win.
It proved to be their final win.
Even though they weren't crowned champions, Kepenekian and Amirkanyan were treated like ones when they returned home. Ararat had a dinner celebration for Kepenekian and Amirkanyan on July 8, giving their friends and family an opportunity to honor them for their efforts.
Their former coaches had high praise.
"Christine is probably the best teammate you can ask for," said Menooa Aboolian, who coached Kepenekian and Amirkanyan for three years in the Homenetmen Navasartian Games.
"She works hard and does what's necessary. She's relentless in her efforts and she loves to compete.
"Arpine is a fierce competitor. She's willing to battle for anything."
Former Glendale High girls' basketball Coach Fred Babadjanians laughed when he thought about Kepenekian's recent exploits.
He recalled coaching her as a 12-year-old guard who he didn't think was good enough to play for Ararat.
"I actually didn't let her join my team because she didn't look like she could play," he said. "She came back and turned out to be an unbelievable asset.
"She's the pure definition of somebody who plays for the team name on her chest as opposed to the name on her back."
Kepenekian and Amirkanyan will play for Armenia when it takes part in the Division B Tournament in Poland from June 18 to July 3 in 2011. The top two teams for the Division C Tournament were promoted a level.
In the meantime, Kepenekian said she's hoping she'll get a call to play professionally in Europe while Amirkanyan will return to Georgia to complete her final year at Armstrong Atlantic State.
They're eager to play for Armenia again.
Said Kepenekian: "We know the competition is going to be better in the B division. This was a confidence booster for us."