It was a wildly successful and historic 2011-12 girls' basketball season for the four city teams.
Not only did Burroughs High, Burbank, Providence and Bellarmine-Jefferson all qualify for the CIF Southern Section playoffs, but the Pioneers and Guards also captured league championships. In addition, Providence, Bell-Jeff and Burbank all advanced to the playoff semifinals in their respective divisions.
With their share of returning players, the Bulldogs, Pioneers and Indians are looking to add to that success from last season. For Bell-Jeff, it is getting acclimated to a new coach and the team doesn't have much in the way of returners.
Here is a closer look at how the teams are shaping up.
Under coach Andrew Bencze, the Pioneers (27-6, 10-0 in league) rolled to an undisputed Liberty League championship, the third in a row for the program.
In the postseason, the No. 3 Pioneers went on to the Division V-AA semifinals for the first time in program history, losing to No. 1 Villanova Prep, 48-35. Providence received an invitation to state play and defeated Rock Academy, 68-35, and Orangewood Academy, 44-34, to advance to the regional semifinals. In the game, Providence saw its season come to an end with a 64-28 loss to Mission Prep.
Helping lead the historic run were Bea Benedicto and Katia Dabbaghian. The pair earned All-CIF Southern Section accolades in Division V-AA, as Benedicto and Dabbaghian were second-team picks.
Benedicto was also awarded by being named the Liberty League co-Player of the Year, averaging 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a contest. Dabbaghian averaged 7.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 steals and three assists.
Luckily for the Pioneers, Benedicto, a forward, is back for her senior season and Dabbaghian, a guard, is just a sophomore.
"We return six of our top seven players," said Bencze, who lost All-CIF player Catherine Saint to graduation. "Any time you have that consistency from one year to the next it just makes it so much easier to coach. On top of that we have some really good editions, so we're excited about the season. This is the deepest team that I've ever had."
Bencze added that with the amount of returning players from a team that made a deep postseason run last season, the experience the players received a year ago is invaluable.
"That was without a doubt a great experience for them last year," he said. "You have to go through things to become a good player and you have to have those kinds of experiences. Last year, we got that experience of going deep in the playoffs and playing in those big games. Now it's all so real to them.
"We talk about winning a CIF championship this year and they know what it takes because they've been real close and they're really hungry."
Also returning to bolster the Providence lineup is sophomore Amanda Reyes and seniors Estelle Glorioso, Janel Adraneda and Nicole Mungues.
Adding to the mix is newcomers are Fabi Jimenez, a freshman, sophomore Deanna Nazarian, a transfer from Ribet Academy, and junior Kristie Kawamoto, a transfer from Glendale Adventist Academy. While Nazarian has been cleared to play right away, Kawamoto must sit out until Dec. 31 under the new CIF transfer restrictions.
With the talent the Pioneers possess this season, Bencze said winning a fourth consecutive Liberty League championship is definitely a goal.
"We have a tough preseason schedule, so we're hoping that will get us ready for league," Bencze said. "I think we should be the favorite in league, but Buckley has a very good player and they should be good."
The Bulldogs made history last season by advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division I-A semifinals for the first time. The squad also notched a first by qualifying for the state playoffs.