If some new blood can enter the girls soccer scene this season, the winter months could offer even more of a refresher beyond this chilly air.
Early-season matches and tournaments have yet to dispel the notion that it will be difficult to unseat the usual cast of kickers, as Division I’s defending champion, Xavier, is always talented and difficult to handle. The Gators always lose key pieces every year (this season being no exception) and rarely has it mattered when it comes to deep state tournament ventures.
Same with Pinnacle, which will again be a top team, along with Desert Vista and a new-look Highland program. These schools made up last year’s final four grouping among big schools, and could do it again.
Then again, maybe they won’t. Anthem Boulder Creek is a serious contender from the West Valley. Corona del Sol believes it’s back in the mix of the state’s elite (even if the Aztecs have neither strayed far, nor for very long without interjecting themselves back into the conversation). Basha could have one of its better teams in school history, as could Desert Ridge.
Watch out for Hamilton, a team which struggled at times with youth last year but returns a wealth of talent in a few key seniors, and a large, deep junior class. Both Mesa and Mountain View believe they can be state tournament teams again with returning talent and slight tweaks to respective schedules the schools hope will account for some lost power rankings figures last year.
Campo Verde was the talk of the tournament last year, a young program with new coach Rosanne Headley that quickly rose the ranks of Division III to win its first championship in the school’s infancy. The Coyotes lost a strong collection of seniors, and the team moves into Div. II. Seton Catholic has a dynamic playmaker in junior Reggie VanDevender, and a solid surrounding cast capable of making it far in Div. III with the Tucson and West Valley schools.
Teams to Watch
Basha: Greg Johnson’s group might be the best of his four years at Basha, with seven returning starters from a 10-8-2 team last season. That means more depth.
Campo Verde: The feel-good story of 2012-2013 with a new coach in Rosanne Headley and an unheralded senior class which led the Coyotes to the Div. III state championship. The Coyotes lost a lot, but a good core returns with Meg McDowell and Taylor Frick among six starters (plus Victoria Dunigan returning from a torn ACL early last year). Can they do it again now that they’ve moved up to Div. II?
Corona del Sol: Always a top-shelf team defensively, the Aztecs seek a dynamic offensive threat to go with ASU-commit Lexi Bounds in net and a defense led by another ASU-commit in Maddie Wolf. Section 3 is stacked in Division I and this group will be one of those reasons why.
Desert Ridge: After an 11-10 finish last year, the Jaguars are already off to an undefeated start this season (as of Thursday) at 7-0, including a championship in its own tournament, the Cactus Cup, in early December. Cassidy Frost is a solid GK and Ali Coleman and Amina Sanchez lead the attack. With a few breaks, a playoff berth is realistic.
Desert Vista: Can the Thunder do it again? A loaded team in the back end (13 goals allowed all season) returns, and sophomore forward Tatum Heeres led the team with 16 goals and nine assists as a freshman. Hannah Gavin and Nicole Gefrides can score, all ample reasons Marvin Hypolite’s team could make a return trip to the finals.
Gilbert: Ben Holzer’s perennially solid program could hold up better against Div. I elite with six returning starters and seven seniors on the roster. Junior Melinda Gutierrez had 16 goals as a sophomore and Rikki Jarnagin returns on defense after a torn ACL suffered last December.
Hamilton: After being championship contenders two years ago, the Huskies went through some pains last year, but watch out this year. That young squad is back in force, led by standout Kylie Minifield. The junior class is loaded with Jaimie Salas (ASU commit) and McKaya Brown (U of A), and there’s more underclassmen coming.
Highland: Speaking of changes, the Hawks are noticably different these days after the graduations of elite talent in Ashley Hatch, Jaden DeGracie, Brena Jarvis and Ashley March, among many. Andy Barber takes over this top-flight program for John Berzins who left for family reasons after last season. There’s a lot of talent to work with here led by Bri Hatch, Brooke Niimi, Jackie Strom and a new GK in Amanda Witherow.
Mesa: This is planning on being a culmination of the past two years’ worth of lumps taken by Andy Clarke’s program in youth and loaded schedules. Nine starters are poised for a playoff push behind Logan Fischer and Jailene Romero. How well the team’s depth evolves will be key, but a few more wins are expected, and that’s what the Jackrabbits see as the difference this time around.
Mountain View: Haley Adams was part of a national championship club team during summer/fall, and leads a pretty good nucleus back from last year’s 9-3 squad. Junior Samantha Norberg is a top defender, and she along with senior Amy Rock will lead the defense, but Rock’s one of only a handful of seniors on this squad for Brian Ronin.
Seton Catholic: Title contenders in Div. III, the Trojans have one of the best offensive threats in junior forward Reggie Vandevender, plus Kat Garlid, Kelsey Moore and a couple promising freshman.
Players to Watch
Apache Junction: Kaerby Garcia, Jr., MF; Kendra Heninger, Sr., MF; Vie Luff, Fr., F; Campo Verde: Amanda Canzona, Fr., GK; Victoria Dunigan, Sr., F; Taylor Frick, Jr., MF; Janelle Halter, So., D; Colleen Kettner, Sr., D; Meg McDowell, Sr., MF; Sebrina Rodriguez, So., D; Combs: Britlyn Ashburn, So., F; Briana Gomez, So., F; Kali Guest, Sr., MF; Corona del Sol: Lexi Bounds, Sr., GK; Liz Cheney, Sr., D; Hannah Rowe, Sr., MF; Maddie Wolf, Jr., MF; Desert Ridge: Ali Coleman, Jr., F; Cassidy Frost, Jr., GK; Ila Holgerson, Jr., F; Josie Palacios, Sr., D; Amina Sanchez, Sr., MF; Desert Vista: Tatum Heeres, So., F; Olivia Jones, Fr., F; Brooke Leftwich, Sr., MF; Brenna Leftwich, Sr., MF; ); Lauren Owens, Sr., MF; Alexa Ryder, Jr., GK; Dobson: Sierra Belisle, Sr., D; Hannah Peterson, Sr., GK; Elisha Ross, Sr., MF; Gilbert: Melinda Gutierrez, Jr., F; Rikki Jarnagin, Sr., D; Hamilton: McKaya Brown, Jr., F; Jaimie Salas, Jr., F; Renee Terrell, Jr., MF; Riana Metzger, Jr., F; Gabby Martinez, Jr., D; Kendyl Traube, Jr., D; Highland: Brianna Hatch, Jr., MF; Brooke Niimi, So., D; Makkel Parrott, Jr., F; Jackie Strom, Jr., D; Amanda Witherow, Jr., GK; McClintock: Andi Blodgett, Jr., GK; Sophia Bruckner, So., F; Kelsea Frazier, Sr., D; Natalie McKee, Sr., F; Adriana Puente-Reinhardt, Jr., MF; Mesa: Jordyn Diepstraten, Jr., MF; Logan Fischer, Sr., MF; Loey Moen, Jr., MF; Jailene Romero, Sr., D; Mesquite: Jaden Green, Jr., MF; Rachel Johnston, Jr., GK; Kasie Larsen, Sr., F; Camryn Larsen, Fr., MF; Mountain Pointe: Ashley Mutchek, Sr., F; Clare Wilmink, Sr., F; Mountain View: Natalie Clark, Fr., F; Tristen Gonzalez, Jr., MF; Samantha Norberg, Jr., D; Amy Rock, Sr., D; Poston Butte: Rachel Lane, Sr., F; Salena Gomez, Sr., F; Desiree Gorbea, Sr., MF; San Tan Foothills: Cheyene Baer, Sr., MF; Sarai Marquez, Sr., F; Yvonne Robles, Sr., F; Jacki Valenzuela, Sr., MF; Seton Catholic: MJ Carrieres, Fr., MF; Kat Garlid, Sr., MF; Kelsey Moore, Sr., F; Lauren Shapiro, Fr., F; Reggie VanDevender, Jr., F; Tempe: Amy Bello, Sr., MF; Kayla Melgar, Sr., GK; Tempe Prep: Berkeley Clark, So., F; Maggie Drury, Sr., GK; Rachel Matsumoto, Jr., D; Valley Christian: Sophia Ames, So., F; Clair Henry, Fr., F; Keara Schromm, Jr., F; Natalie Spina, Sr., F
Dec. 9-14: Coyote Classic tournament (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Dec. 16-21: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational (at Mesa H.S.)
Dec. 26-31: Mustang Soccer Classic (at Dobson H.S./Red Mountain Park)
Dec. 27-31: Arizona Soccer Showcase (at Reach 11 Sports Complex)
Jan. 3-4: Apache Junction Gold Cup tournament (at Apache Junction H.S.)
Feb. 4: State tournaments begin
Feb. 13: Div. I and I state semifinals (at Campo Verde H.S./Paradise Valley H.S.)
Feb. 14: Div. III state championship match (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Feb. 15: Div. I and II state championship matches (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.