First published in the Feb. 19 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By Alex Leon
Special to the Burbank Leader
Think about it: in the annals of basketball, has a player — let alone four of them — ever played on a team with their former high school coach, and in such a way that the word “unique” doesn’t begin to describe the situation?
On any given night this season at Glendale Community College’s Verdugo Gym, announcer Spiro Psaltis booms out the names of the starters for the women’s basketball team, beginning with sophomore point guard — and longtime head coach for the Burroughs High School girls’ basketball team — Vicky Oganyan. Kayla Wrobel, the Vaqueros’ leading scorer and rebounder, along with fellow starter Dyani Del Castillo — both 2021 Burroughs alumnae — join their former coach in the roster announcement.
Outside of that, reserves Sophie Hawkins and A’sia Morales, take the court when their new head coach, Joel Weiss, motions them in to join their onetime coach or any combination of their former Burroughs teammates. Each of the four freshmen agree that Oganyan was a factor in not only choosing to attend Glendale but to continue playing basketball at all at this point in their lives.
“Coach Weiss recruited me but the chance to play with Vicky was too good to pass up,” Del Castillo said. “She always jumped into drills with us in high school but to be her teammate is something way beyond that.”
“My goal out of high school was, and still is, to transfer to a four-year school,” Wrobel added, “but to continue playing basketball and do it with friends and my former coach is really special.”
In a recent interview, the teammates largely aligned when describing the challenges they have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including the postponement of games as a result of the disease. But, they all admitted that playing on a team that is 18-5 overall, 9-2 in Western State Conference Southern Division play and on the verge of a third straight conference championship has been worth it.
“I might be at a different school and not playing at all if there wasn’t the opportunity to play with my longtime friends and teammates,” said Hawkins.
“We are all just so close, not just us from high school but all of the players,” added Morales. “Doing stuff together off the court and then getting to play with them is a bonus.”
But leave it to the veteran Oganyan — the 42-year-old point guard extraordinaire who, following three years as an assistant to Weiss, quarterbacked the 2019-20 team to a school-record 27-3 mark after joining the team as a player that season — to sum up her feelings perfectly about playing with her former high school players.
“Playing with four of the players I coached is an awesome experience because I get to continue to share my passion for the game with kids I care about like my own,” she said. “Being on the court with them as teammates just puts a unique twist to it and actually helps me grow as a coach because it helps me see the dynamics of seeing things through player perspectives again.”
Alex Leon is the sports information director for Glendale Community College.