A history of success follows the Crescenta Valley High and Flintridge Prep boys' basketball teams into the 2013-14 season.
Both squads advanced to the semifinals in their respective CIF Southern Section divisions last season and will look to add to their storied programs this year, while St. Francis looks to go where its never been before and Hoover and Glendale aim at playoff runs of their own.
CV has a chance to hit the 20-win threshold, reach the semifinals and the state tournament for the third year in a row. It will have to do so without its top two scorers from last year, reigning All-Area Player of the Year Cole Currie and Nick Springer – a senior transfer to Maranatha.
While that might be a tall task for most teams, Falcons Coach Shawn Zargarian showed his teams can overcome that and more.
Last year, he only returned one experienced player and guided his team to a 24-9, 11-3 in the Pacific League record. Crescenta Valley took second place in league behind Pasadena for the third straight year and reached the Division I-A semifinals and the state tournament.
One thing CV now has it did not a year ago is experience. Senior big man Eric Patten returns to a much bigger role and will be a nice one-two punch with junior Kevin Dinges, who transferred to Crescenta Valley as a sophomore.
Dinges spent his sophomore year on the Falcons junior varsity team after playing a key role on Renaissance Academy Division VI championship squad as a freshman.
“I really feel like our two big men in Eric and Kevin could definitely be a handful for a lot of teams,” said Zargarian, who also returns Berj Krikorian at point guard. “They are both skilled in the post. Kevin will play all five positions for us. They will be tough to guard because they're great passers and both really unselfish.”
Crescenta Valley has a number of complementary pieces and strong long-range shooters surrounding its top three returners, including Cole's younger brother Kyle Currie, Eric Bae, Arin Pezeshkian and Tadeh Taverdians.
Zargarian's cast has him hopeful his program will continue to progress this season, as he's eyeing a league title and another playoff run.
“The goal is always the same for us,” Zargarian said. “If you're in the Pacific League, as a competitor, you want to win that league championship. Especially for us, the last four years we've come in second place, so the goal is definitely to win that title.”
Flintridge Prep graduated a slew of seniors but returns its Stanford-bound star in Robert Cartwright.
“Having experienced guards, senior starters and captains does a world of good for helping our guys who are new to these roles,” Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said of Cartwright and fellow senior guard Kyle Hamane. “Those two will certainly make it easier.”
The Rebels, who qualified for the state tournament after a tough semifinal loss in Division V-AA, will look for success with a much different plan of attack after graduating six key players and just about all their size.
“We're not very tall as we've been the last seven years,” said Ohara, who returns Stefan Smith and brothers Scott and Andrew Tsangeos to bigger roles and welcomes junior-varsity call-up Miles Johnson to the fold. “I think the thing that this team does have is they're a little more mobile, agile and quick.”
Ohara will still have a dominating presence in Cartwright, the reigning Prep League Player of the Year, All-CIF and All-Area first-team point guard that averaged 18.9 points, 4.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 steals a game last year.
Cartwright and the Rebels will have their hands full when the postseason comes around, as CIF announced Friday they were bumped up to Division IV-AA.
With all its postseason success in recent years, including a Division V-AA championship in 2011 and increasing enrollment, Flintridge Prep was moved into the division that includes powerhouses like Serra, La Verne Lutheran and Bishop Montgomery.
“That's the who's who of basketball,” Ohara said.
St. Francis is coming off a program-best quarterfinal run in Division III-A, and Golden Knights co-Coach Ray O'Brien, who works alongside Jeff Stephens, is feeling confident bringing back most of his team that went 17-14 (4-8 in Mission League) in a division that saw last year's champion, St. John Bosco, bumped up.
“The goal is to ultimately go deeper than you've ever gone and to the championship,” O'Brien said. “I believe we are in a position to do that this year. … They've kind of realigned the divisions. Some of the top teams moved up, so while it's competitive, I think we still have a really good shot if we can stay healthy.”
The Golden Knights' success would not just be a product of a favorable bracket, as they return their top nine players from last year.
“I have never been in an experience like that, we have a lot of experience coming back this year,” O'Brien said.
Third-year starter and senior Evan Crawford and returning All-Mission League first-team and All-CIF pick Kyle Leufroy will lead the Knights. Crawford provides St. Francis with versatility and an ability to guard any position, while Leufroy averaged 18.1 points a game last year at point guard.
Senior forward Noah Willerford gives St. Francis some strength down low and is the team's best outside shooter right now, O'Brien said. He'll be accompanied by Markar Agakanian and Greg Lupica down low.
Brodie Felkel and John Carroll bring St. Francis some depth at forward, with Michael Allen and Jake Beck providing guard experience off the bench.
“We have six guys that rotate through the starting lineup and even then we still have experience coming off the bench,” O'Brien said. “We go about nine guys deep and we'll need that depth to compete in our league.”
It's certainly an unenviable task the Knights have, as they look to improve on their fifth-place finish in a league that includes Loyola, Alemany, Harvard-Westlake and Chaminade.
“We're used to it, it is what it is,” O'Brien said of the challenging Mission. “I would rather have a competitive league than a noncompetitive league. We don't even think about it. The kids are welcoming the challenge this year to compete with teams who have been a challenge for us in the past.”
Hoover and Glendale are both looking to move up in a Pacific League this season, after a respective fifth and seventh-place finish. The Tornadoes finished the year with a 4-3 run, including wins over CV and Muir, and a trip to the second round of the Division III-AA playoffs before ending up at 14-14, 5-9.
“Our goal is to win the league, like everyone else, that's our No. 1 goal,” Hoover Coach Jack Van Patten said. “What we took away from last year was we can compete if we play well. Our kids are more confident than they've been in the past.”
Teo Davidian and Alex Chrishyan return as the Tornadoes senior captains. Van Patten is also expecting big things from senior Tiko Babikyan and juniors Kevin Nazari and Chris Sarkisian.
“We shoot the ball well, we will play good defense and we work hard,” Van Patten said.
The Nitros will look to use their size to improve on their 9-18, 4-10 record last year. Glendale Coach Steve Snodgress looks to forwards Alex Miralis and Arthur Terzyan to lead the team.
Miralis is looking to rebound from a knee injury he suffered a year ago, while Terzyan stands at 6 foot 7.
“We have to establish a post game Glendale hasn't really had in recent years,” said Snodgress, who's also looking for a big season from junior guard Stephan Arakelyan. “Offensively, in the paint, we're a little better than we have been. We need Art and Alex to have big years.”
Snodgress hopes his team can take a top-four spot in a league he believes is balanced and more open than it's been in years past.
“We always shoot for one of those top four spots,” Snodgress said. “We recognize the difficulty of some of the teams in league and we'd like to breakthrough against some of the better teams. We've been competitive, but haven't been able to breakthrough yet.”