Lilit Vardanyan doesn't have to look far for inspiration. In fact, the Burbank High junior needs to look no further than her family when it comes to encouragement on the tennis court.
Vardanyan's uncle is former tennis professional Sargis Sargsian, who won one singles and two doubles titles during his career on the ATP Tour. Sargsian participated in three Summer Olympic Games, in 1996, 2000 and 2004, and reached career-high rankings of No. 38 in singles and No. 33 in doubles in the world during 2004.
Sargsian also lost to Andre Agassi in the $50,000 HealthSouth USTA Challenger of Burbank at the Burbank Tennis Center in 1997.
"When I first saw him playing when I was about 4 or 5, I really didn't understand how good of a player he was," Vardanyan said of Sargsian, who came to watch some of the single player's matches this season at Burbank. "I just thought 'oh, he's playing, that's nice.'
"But when I became 10 or 11 and I started competing, I started to realize how good of a player he really is. I would go over to his house and watch the DVDs of him playing. And every time I watched him, it kind of inspired me. I wanted to be like him."
Vardanyan is coached by her grandmother, who she was named after. Her grandmother also helped train Sargsian.
"She knows a lot about tennis, and she's helped me a lot," Vardanyan said of her grandmother.
With motivation and support from her family, Vardanyan has developed into an accomplished athlete. Her skills as a singles player were never more evident than this past season when she enjoyed a wildly successful junior campaign with the Bulldogs. 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.
Behind Vardanyan, Burbank won a share of its first league title since 2002 and advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.
It is because of her accomplishments that Vardanyan has been named the 2013 All-Area Singles Player of the Year by the writers and editors of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
With all of her individual success this past season, it would be understandable for Vardanyan to dwell on her personal accomplishments. However, what was most important to her was the fact that her Burbank team was able to win a share of the league championship.
The Bulldogs split their two matches against the Apaches. The team notched a win at Arcadia when it beat the hosts, 10-8, on Sept. 17. The Apaches were ranked No. 2 in the division and the Bulldogs were not ranked among the top 10.
"That was such a big win for us," Vardanyan said. "We had never beaten Arcadia at their place, so it was huge. Some of our seniors were crying and they were really emotional about it."
The two teams met again Oct. 10 at Burbank, with the Apaches holding on to win by just two games, 9-9 (79-77).
"Even though we lost that second time, we were able to win a part of league and that's all that matters," Vardanyan said. "We are just so proud of that league title."
Vardanyan, who went 56-2 during the year — dropping just one set during the regular season — went from concentrating on her team to focusing on herself at the Pacific League Tournament in late October. She was able to advance to the singles final at Pasadena High, but then ran into some trouble.
Seeded No. 1, Vardanyan didn't play well early in her championship contest against Arcadia's Sharlene Song and, as a result, trailed in the opening set by four games. But she fought back and won six straight games to capture the first set and finished the comeback by taking the second set against the No. 2-seeded Song, as she walked off the court with a 7-5, 6-3 victory to secure the singles championship.
During the first set, Burbank Coach Loi Phan suggested that Vardanyan switch up her strategy and go from a power game to more of a finesse game, mixing in more slices and drop shots. Vardanyan heeded the advice, and began to play better.
"That's the great thing about Lilit; she is very coachable and she listens to suggestions," said Phan, who was named the All-Area Coach of the Year. "A lot of players won't listen to advice. It doesn't matter how good you are as a player, if you're not coachable than it's just no use for a coach.
"I put my two cents in, yes, but she was the one who carried it out and she was the one who made it happen. She just has a great attitude, she listens and she just wants to get better. Those are things a coach just loves to see."
Vardanyan was also able to enjoy success at the CIF Southern Section Individual Tournament. Advancing to the second day of the event Dec. 4 at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center in South El Monte, she began her day by winning an up-and-down match against Jennifer Audra of Arlington, the No. 1 player from the Inland Valley League. The Bulldog won the first set, 6-3, but couldn't close out the contest and, as a result, lost the second set, 7-5. However, Vardanyan rebounded, taking the third set, 6-2, and earning herself a spot in the quarterfinals with the 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 win.
That set up a quarterfinal contest against top-seed Annika Ringblom from Peninsula, who won the Bay League championship. Unfortunately for Vardanyan, she was just no match for the seasoned senior, losing, 6-1, 6-1.
"She was very good, and I tried my best," Vardanyan said. "But it was a very great experience for me. It motivates me to want to come back next year."
With a mild demeanor and a workmanlike approach to her game, Vardanyan has earned the admiration of her teammates, some of whom say the junior is always willing to take the time and give them tips and help with their game.
"She is just a great person in general, and I think everyone on the team looked up to her," said Burbank freshman singles player Nicole Merrit, who was an All-Area pick. "She is a very fair person and she never treats her opponents badly. She is aggressive on the court, but she never loses her temper."
With time now to reflect on her successful campaign, one might expect Vardanyan to take some time off and relax after a hectic season. However, she said she will be busy almost every weekend taking part in junior tournaments.
In addition, although her senior season at Burbank is more than eight months away, Vardanyan said it's never too early to get prepared for her final year with the Bulldogs.
"I just want to get better and be the best that I can be," she said. "I want to be ready for next year, and I know I will have to work hard to do what I want to do. But I really can't wait."