It was an unexpected breakthrough season a year ago for the Burbank High girls' tennis team.
Led by talented singles player Lilit Vardanyan and a solid doubles contingent, the Bulldogs won a share of the Pacific League championship. It was the Bulldogs' first league title since 2002 when they were members of the Foothill League. The team also advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.
For Burroughs, it was a season of ups and downs. The Indians struggled against the more talented teams in league and placed sixth, missing the playoffs.
Fortunately for the Indians they get most of their team back. The same can't be said for the Bulldogs; however, as they lost some key doubles players to graduation.
Here is a closer look at how the teams are shaping up.
The Bulldogs are coming off a season in which they went 15-3 and 11-1 in the Pacific League to tie Arcadia for the championship.
"I think we surprised some people last year," Burbank Coach Loi Phan said. "We were just able to make it all come together."
The Bulldogs split their two matches against the Apaches. The team notched a win at Arcadia when it beat the host, 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 two games, 9-9 (79-77).
Despite last season's success, the road to a second straight title might be tough for the Bulldogs, who lost some key players to graduation. Two of the biggest losses were seniors Meredy Gharabegi and Elizabeth Sanchez, who formed a doubles team that advanced to the league championship match a year ago.
"We will be good with our top two singles, but after that we definitely have some question marks," Phan said. "Losing those doubles players did hurt us. We have some younger players who can hopefully fill the spots, but we don't have anybody like Meredy and Elizabeth to replace them."
Phan has the luxury of having an accomplished 1-2 singles punch, led by Vardanyan, a senior who was the 2013 All-Area Singles Player of the Year. Along with losing just two sets the entire season, Vardanyan also captured the Pacific League singles championship and advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Individual Tournament. She ended with a 56-2 record.
"She had been playing a lot, so I expect her to be even tougher this season," Phan said. "She is getting some interest with some Division I colleges and hopefully she will play like she did last year."
The other top singles player is returning sophomore Nicole Merrit. The All-Area selection made an instant impact in her first season with the Bulldogs, placing third in the Pacific League tournament and ending the season with a 37-11 record.
Two other players who could see their share of playing time are senior returner Marny Ehmann and senior Leona Torosian, who will both play doubles.
"We have some other players who will be fighting for spots," Phan said. "We moved some girls up from JV and we just have to see if they have what it takes to play at the varsity level. We just won't be as strong in doubles."
In the league race, Phan said Arcadia should be the favorite.
"We are going to have a decent team," he said. "But Arcadia has some good players back from last year and they are supposed to have two new freshmen who are good. So, we will probably be playing for second place in league."
The Indians are coming off a season in which they went 4-12 and 3-9 in the Pacific League.
"We lost two players who graduated, but they were kind of subs," Burroughs Coach Roy Bernhardt said. "So we really didn't lose that much at all and we have almost the entire team back, so that is nice.
"We didn't have a very good season last year. I think Burbank and Arcadia both beat us by 18-0 scores both times. But we did play Hoover to a 9-9 tie and lost in games. We are hoping that maybe we have gotten better and this season we can win a match like that."
Returning to bolster the singles for the Indians are senior Alicia Singhanate, junior Oahn Nguyen and sophomore Jennifer Drechsler. Also returning are senior Kiersten Bark, junior June Park and junior Jessica Viado.
A freshman who should crack the lineup is Jacqueline Samsell.
"We just want to be competitive in league," Bernhardt said. "Burbank and Arcadia are going to have good teams, so hopefully we can just win more games against them this season."
Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.