By Brandon HENSLEY
It was just over two years ago that Arin Ovanessian found himself in a tough spot. It was a road basketball game at John Muir High School, and Ovanessian’s Falcons were down 47-46 with the clock ticking down. The play called for the ball to be thrown inside to center Eric Patten, but Ovanessian didn’t see a passing lane he liked. Instead, he took the shot from beyond the three-point arc. The ball went in, and Crescenta Valley held off Muir to win the game, which propelled them to a Pacific League title.
Ovanessian was just a sophomore. He called it his favorite memory of his career.
Ovanessian is a senior now. Last week he came out of the locker room to answer questions about the game he just played minutes earlier, a CIF-SS Division 1A playoff loss in the second round to Walnut that not only ended his season, but his career.
The shot against Muir seemed like it happened yesterday, he said.
“It gets emotional. It went by too quickly. Now it’s my last game and it’s kind of a shock. There’s no more high school basketball,” he said. “But it was a good run.”
The 70-65 overtime loss at CVHS was also the final game for Gabe Ajemian, Chris Reik, Tadeh Tarverdians, Michael Mirzaian and Harout Boyajian. It’s never a shock to see seniors get emotional after their final game. Sullen faces, tears and hugs are the norm this time of year for basketball players.
But coaches take these losses hard as well, and not just because the other team scored more points in a frenzied playoff game that could have gone either way. Instead, they take a look at the players to whom they must say goodbye, and a whole new set of feelings start to surface.
There was Coach Shawn Zargarian last week, a man who played for CV and cried after his final game, a playoff loss to Mission Viejo. Since that day in 1995 he’s been with the program as either an assistant or head coach, and it never gets any easier this time of year. After this loss, he had to compose himself when he left the locker room before answering questions.
“It’s okay when I walk in, I’m okay emotionally, but when I see them, I see the tears in their eyes,” Zargarian said. “Every year it breaks my heart because I know for them, there’s so much time, effort and energy [they spent]. It’s their life. CV basketball is their life.”
But it’s his life, too. Last year, after the playoff loss at Oak Park, Zargarian seemed worn down and admitted as much, attributing it to the daily grind of coaching a team, one in 2015 that was a little more inconsistent than previous years.
This year’s squad was also inconsistent. The Falcons went 19-8 in the regular season, 9-5 in league.
They never seemed to find that extra gear. Not that it mattered to Zargarian on this night.
“All I can say is they left it on the floor. For me, the previous 27, 28 games don’t mean a thing. We didn’t come out on the right side, but they played so hard. I was really happy with their effort.
“I always genuinely feel for the seniors. That feeling of saying goodbye to the seniors is [difficult].”
Still, he said once again he felt a little more worn down. This was another tough year, and maybe it is a case of simply doing this job every day, year and year out.
“Almost to a fault, I only know one way to do this job, and I give it everything I have,” Zargarian said. “Last year was hard, and this year as well. Maybe that’s some of the emotion coming out of me, not being able to see my family; completely dedicating everything I have to these kids and this program.”
It was a season of adjustment for the team, not having Eric Strangis back as an assistant. Strangis, who played at Crescenta Valley and eventually made his way on to the team at USC, was a coach Zargarian looked to for defensive strategy, as well as being a young person the players could communicate to (Strangis is in his mid-20s.).
Zargarian likened this year to not having a friend by your side when times become tough.
“Me and Eric have a very special connection. It’s just a natural [thing]. He played for me, he knows what I’m thinking, I know what he’s thinking,” Zargarian said.
The program has meant a lot to Ovanessian, who spent two and half seasons under Zargarian on varsity. Every year CV athletes are reminded of what being a Falcon means, and to uphold the motto of “Pride, Tradition, Honor.” Some probably don’t take it too seriously – they’re teenagers, after all – but Ovanessian said he‘s not one of them.
“That means everything to me,” he said. “Every time I step on the court and put this jersey on, I’m wearing it with pride. I’m doing it for the people who built this program. It means a lot to represent our school.”