With several key players set to return, it appeared the Crescenta Valley High and Flintridge Prep girls' tennis teams were set to build on impressive 2011 seasons in which they enjoyed appearances in the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs and sent players on CIF Individual Tournament runs.
Once the Falcons and Rebels, who both bring in new coaches with Sam Hyun and Patty Baron, respectively, began practice this season they noticed they were without their top singles player — or two — from last year.
Crescenta Valley will look to take back the Pacific League title from rival Arcadia for the first time in three years, but will have to do so without Karen Ataian, who would have likely been its ace and most dominant player in No. 1 singles player if she returned for her senior year after she upset Arcadia's Francis Dean for the league singles title in 2011.
"[Ataian] isn't with us anymore, I think she is just doing private [junior] tournaments now," said Hyun, who replaces two-year coach Sarah Wiggins after the Falcons placed second in league with a 16-3, 10-2 in league record.
Flintridge Prep also seemed poised to contend for the top spot in the Prep League after its most dominant player Andrea Kevakian, a sophomore who advanced to the third round of the CIF Individuals as a freshman, and former All-Area standout Jenise Vargas, a senior, were set to return.
"Neither one of them are back so far," said Baron, who replaces Ron Catano after the Rebels went 14-5, 8-2 in league in 2011. "I had heard all about them before I got here, but I am not sure if Andrea is coming back or not. Her [personal] coach has flipped her whole schedule around. It's the same thing with Jenise.
"Right now I am going under the assumption I do not have them so it looks like I will be building my singles roster."
Hopes of a winning a league title are still alive for CV, which brings back its No. 1 doubles team of Jackie Dilanchyan and Viktoriya Shumakova.
"We are hoping for No. 1 [in league]," he said. "I heard from our captains that a lot of Arcadia's team graduated or decided not to play. We have to see when we play them. We have to find out if that's true, and if that's the case we have a chance to beat Arcadia."
Alexa Gregorian moves into the No. 1 singles slot for CV, but doubles figures to be the Falcons' strength with the departure of their top two singles players.
"We are stacking doubles, obviously, because without a superstar in singles we have to stack doubles," said Hyun, who also lost Emily Borkowski, who played No. 1 singles for CV last year, to graduation.
Shumakova and Sarah Oh will serve as the Falcons senior captains this season. Oh makes up half of Hyun's No. 2 doubles team with Kyung-Hei Seo.
"They are coming up very strong during practice," Hyun said of Oh and Seo. "They have been giving Jackie and Viktoriya a good run in practice. We have to see how they do in a match.
"We expect six points in doubles, then all we need to do is get three or four in singles."
Baron will also rely on her doubles teams this year, particularly Abby Letts and Young-In Kim, who were the Rebels' top pairing in 2011. Annie Lowery and Maya Dunn will likely fill in as Prep's No. 2 doubles team with Ester Jun and Eirene Kim giving Baron some flexibility, as both are versatile enough to play singles and doubles.
"My goal is just to hopefully have the doubles team carry the singles," said Baron, who is moving junior Roya Ghessari from doubles to No. 1 singles. "Roya will hopefully carry the singles players and hopefully I can fill in from there."
Both Hoover and Glendale hope to improve on how they finished in the Pacific League standings last year, as both are looking for a top-four spot and playoff berth.
Tornadoes Coach Julie Hoppe knows it will be a dogfight, even if CV and Arcadia aren't as strong this season, with Burbank and Burroughs in the mix for the third and fourth position in league.
"I think there is going to be a lot more parody [in league]," said Hoppe, whose girls missed the playoffs with a 5-11, 4-8 in league record last season. "I still think CV and Arcadia are going to be at the top, but they won't be as dominant as they have been."
Hoover seniors Kiso Adzhemyan and Diana Karapetyan will be relied on for their leadership and versatility this season, as they may be split to play singles at times after they played doubles together in 2011.
Adzhemyan and fellow returner Petra Beglarian will likely share the Tornadoes' No. 1 slot in singles with Beglarian filling in when Adzhemyan plays doubles. Erlinda Kirakosyan, a junior, and sophomore Sarah Kim will fill the other singles positions this year, while also rotating into doubles depending on the matchup.
"Teams that are strong in singles, I will stack my doubles and I will do the opposite with teams that are strong in doubles," Hoppe said. "All of our matches are going to be close with the teams we can beat. My girls always have to play their best tennis for us to win the close ones."
Nitros Coach Bob Davidson is also short on experience this year, but he's hopeful his team will improve as the season goes on and move up in league.
"We were in the top three [in league] for about 15 years in a row and last year we struggled a bit," said Davidson, whose team also missed the playoffs in 2011 after finishing sixth in league with a 2-12, 2-10 in league record. "Now, our goal is just to try to get a little better and we are working on getting back to where we were, and that's going to take a while because we kind of had a loss of talent all at once and we are still trying to regroup from that."
Senior Emily Levin and Veronika Galstyan, a sophomore, return to lead Glendale in singles this year.
While Davidson hasn't decided on the combinations yet, he sees promise in his doubles lineup this year with players like Amanda Lieu, Imani Story, Danielle Fabian and Mary Tailevanian.
"I think for us to be successful we're going to have to be balanced because we're not as strong in singles and not as strong in doubles," Davidson said. "I think our girls are going to compete very hard and I think we will improve throughout the season."
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy Ron Zambrano feels optimistic about this season after his team went 3-9, 2-8 in league to place fifth in the Mission League last year.
"Most of our good players are coming back and we are supposed to have three new freshmen that are very decent and have been playing tennis for a few years," Zambrano said.
The Tologs return a large part of their doubles lineup with Alex Milat, Lara Sarkisian, Victoria McGregor and Julia Byrne.
"I can count on the doubles," Zambrano said. "I know they will win some matches, but what we need is to have a couple good singles players and we'll be good."