When Burbank High sophomore Isabella Maneh Nersesyan laces up her cleats and steps on to a soccer field in Burbank, she can exhale and relax.
It isn’t all the time that she can experience the comfort of being able to play in her hometown. Thursday her Bulldogs team concludes the regular season by hosting Burroughs at 3:30 p.m.
Her cleats have spent just as much time in suitcases traveling the world as they have on her feet.
In addition to playing for the Bulldogs, at the club level and within the U.S. Olympic Development Program, Maneh, who is known to others by her middle name, is also a member of the Armenian Under-17 National Team.
Nersesyan, who will turn 16 in March, has managed to juggle a very busy soccer schedule that has taken her to a number of states and countries.
“I had always dreamed to play for the national team, Olympics, World Cup, but I didn’t think it would be Armenia,” Nersesyan said. “I had teammates from my club and ODP program who had received invitations to USA National Team ID camps, so I fully focused myself and set goals, that if I would continue to work hard and further my development, one day I would get the same opportunity.”
But one day the call she wasn’t expecting came instead.
“When an opportunity knocked on my door to represent Armenia, I accepted with no hesitation. In addition to pride and honor, I knew I (could) make a difference. In (the) U.S. the talent pool is huge, probably the biggest in the world. In Armenia, women’s soccer (is) barely developing and facing many challenges along the way.”
Nersesyan, who was born locally, said the process of becoming a dual citizen which was needed for her to play for Armenia, also required a lengthy process that she thanks her parents for helping complete.
Last March, as a 14-year-old, Nersesyan played in her first Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) match.
That match pitted Armenia against bitter rival Turkey.
“Our team consisted largely of local players who had never played in an international match, nor had they ever competed at such a high level,” Nersesyan recalled.
Nersesyan, who is an offensive midfielder and or winger, was one of four Armenian-Americans who played for Armenia in the match.
“Those that know the Armenian-Turkey history know that this is a particular matchup that was much more than just a soccer game. There were so many emotions, nerves,” Nersesyan said. “There were thousands in attendance. We fought so hard, gave it all out on the field and even managed to keep the score tied 0-0 through the halftime whistle.”
Turkey went on to win the match, but Nersesyan came away with a valuable experience.
“This game taught me so much. It made me realize that I can make a difference to motivate and inspire other young girls. So many young girls looked up to me. It was truly an inspirational moment.”
This past October, Armenia called Nersesyan back to its Under-17 program for a UEFA qualification match in Luxembourg.
It was here that she scored twice to lead Armenia to a 3-0 win over its neighbor to the north, Georgia. It was the first win ever in the history of the Armenian Under-17 women’s team.
“It was truly the best day thus far in my career,” Nersesyan said.
Playing international hasn’t come easy as Nersesyan has been forced her to miss large amounts of school time.
“I appreciate that most of my teachers have been super understanding and accommodating in allowing me remote assignments and or delayed completion for tests,” she said.
Eventually Nersesyan would like to play major college soccer and even beyond.
“I have big dreams to play professionally either here in the U.S. or in Europe,” she said. “After this June, I will be eligible to talk to universities and I would love to play Division 1 soccer locally in California.”
While her experience at the club, national and international levels has been positive, Nersesyan has kept things in perspective by continuing to play for a Burbank High program that has struggled in recent years.
“I didn’t sign up for high school soccer to receive accolades. I chose to play in high school to be able to spend time with my schoolmates, represent my school colors and if possible, inspire other girls to dream big,” she said.
Burbank High Athletic Director and interim girls’ soccer coach Alli McKain has worked with Nersesyan over the past month and has made some interesting observations.
“Maneh is skillful, yet humble. She has a passion for the game and a love for competing at an elite level,” McKain said. “Her technical footwork is exceptional and her field vision and soccer IQ are very high, yet she remains coachable, receptive to feedback, and honest when assessing her performance. She has an excellent work ethic , starting with her warmup and she conducts herself professionally every time she steps on the pitch.”
It isn’t every day that soccer fans in Burbank can get a chance to see a player with the potential to play for many more years. Hopefully they take advantage of the opportunity to see her when she is home.