Apparently the last few years of boys soccer wasn't loaded enough at the top levels, because the road this year's teams will travel is going to be tougher.
With the decision to condense five divisions down to three (Div. IV consists primarily of northern Arizona schools that play in fall), the ensuing mixture of top-notch teams from the old 5A Division II, 4A-I or 4A-II level are now mixed together.
It means the likes of Chaparral, Desert Mountain and Perry make Division I even deeper. And Division I is already brutal with defending-champion Brophy, runners-up Hamilton, Gilbert, Desert Vista, Red Mountain, Mountain View, Corona del Sol and Basha, not to mention Yuma Kofa and last year's 5A-II champion in Glendale Ironwood.
It could have a ripple effect for Div. II and Div. III. Notre Dame, Cactus Shadows and Saguaro will compete with Tucson schools Salpointe, Sabino and Catalina Foothills.
Coronado and Williams Field should enjoy playing in Division III as they're among the bigger schools (based on enrollment) rather than a small school in the old 4A-II.
Combine all this with the new schedules, in which teams play an "unbalanced" schedule by playing some schools within their section twice, while not playing others, and there's concern (a couple coaches used "outrage").
The fear is power points that determine state tournament participants - the top three from each section receive automatic berths into their respective division's tournament, and remaining nine spots for each division are decided by power points - are going to be skewed one direction or the other depending on a given school's schedule.
It appears to have left most coaches with the idea that they'll have certainly earned their spot in the state tournament, and with the additions of the Tempe Diablos Classic and the new Arizona Soccer Showcase, there won't be many teams unprepared for what state tournament competition will involve.
If they make it.
E.V. Teams to Watch
Brophy: Defending big-school state champs lost 14 senior starters but Lennon and Sundermeier return with four others, a couple talented kids forgo club ball to play HS; Nat'l championship is a pursuit here again.
Chaparral: Already handed Brophy its first home loss in five years, 2-1, in overtime. Jump to Div. I is tough, but talented team returns two key guys after two years of not playing H.S. soccer in Douglas Jamison and Boston Kimmel
Coronado: Similar to its other "football" brethren, these futbol Dons can better compete as one of the larger schools in Div. III.
Desert Vista: Only three returned from last year's quarterfinals team, but the Thunder are never non-contenders.
Gilbert: With six starters back and one of the best coaches in the area in Jeff Perry, the Tigers were 16-4-2 last year and lost to Hamilton, 1-0, in the state semifinals.
Hamilton: Lost a lot in last two years, but have six guys back and have already played like championship contenders early, led by 2010-11 All-State players Danny Arrubla and Kiyan Pirgheybi.
Mountain View: A popular "sleeper" pick in Division I, the Toros have been on their way up again, but Section III will be tough sledding.
Notre Dame: Lost All-State GK Tommy Hebert to club soccer but Will Groves returns; Saints and Cactus Shadows will succeed, but now must compete with favorites Tucson Salpointe and Tucson Catalina Foothills in Div. II
Red Mountain: Though short on returning experience, the Lions have one of the top sophomores in AZ (Preston Dolenar) on defense and Justin Cheung up front.
Players to Watch
Danny Arrubla, Hamilton, Sr., F: An All-State forward who had 26 goals last season, he's a big part of the Huskies' attack, and far from the only one.
Charlie Dukes, Gilbert, Sr., MF: One of the Tigers leaders with Tyler Gillaspie and Nathan Rice, Dukes is a big part of the Tigers' attack.
Will Groves, Notre Dame, Sr., GK: Could have started in goal last year but now takes over for All-State GK Tommy Hebert, who's playing club this year. Saints lost a lot of starter (though not talent) so steady backline is key.
Riggs Lennon, Brophy, Jr., F: Last year's Tribune Player of Year as a sophomore, the Virginia-commit was going to play club but changed his mind. Really bad news for opponents.
Kiyan Pirgheybi, Hamilton, Sr., GK: Long-but-agile between the posts, the 2010-11 All-State goalkeeper averaged fewer than one goal per match last season and headed in that direction again.
Ian Poblete, Brophy, Sr., MF: He and teammate Jonathan Zabasajja left Real Salt Lake academy in Casa Grande to return to high school soccer.
Salvador Sanchez, Tempe, Sr., MF: Captain and four-year starter has been led Buffaloes to the state semifinals once and the quarterfinals twice, already beat Notre Dame en route towards Div. II title push.
Cesar Sandoval, Desert Vista, Sr., MF: All-State caliber attacker already has GW goal against Mountain Pointe, will be counted on to lead young Thunder.
Other Players to Watch
Basha: Kendyl Day, Jr., GK
Brophy: Chad Ahrensdorf, Sr., MF: Tyler McGehee, Jr., D; Timmy Mourikes, Jr., MF; Nate Sundermeier, Jr., GK; Jonathan Zabasajja, Jr., MF
Cactus Shadows: Jacob Donovan, Sr., F
Chandler: Andrew Layton, Fr., F; Taylor Rumsey, Jr., Def.; Jesus Villegas, Sr., F
Chaparral: Douglas Jamison, Sr., F; Boston Kimmel, Sr., MF
Desert Vista: Jack Collier, Sr., F; Sean McDowell, Sr., D
Gilbert: Tyler Gillaspie, Sr., MF; Nathan Rice, Sr., GK; Emmanuel Castillo, Sr., D; Jesse Aleman, Sr., D
Highland: Chase Boulton, Jr., GK; Luke LaVanway, Sr., MF; Freddy Ramos, Sr., D
McClintock: Eugenio Morales, Sr., MF
Mesa: Steven Delgado, Sr., D.; Matt Winkler, Soph, GK; Danny Segura, Sr., Def.; Felipe Vera, Sr., MF
Mountain Pointe: Alex Delgiorno, Sr., MF; Omar Molina, Sr., GK; Pejas Narkhede, Sr., MF
Notre Dame: Michael Trudy, Sr., MF
Red Mountain: Hector Briceno, Sr., MF; Justin Cheung, So., F; Preston Dolenar, So., Def.; Matt Nichols, Sr., D; Luis Schraidt, Sr., MF
Saguaro: Marcello Aguirre, Sr., GK; Andrew Avram, So., MF
Tempe Prep: Niku Khatami, So., GK; Getamesay Wiese, So. MF
Valley Christian: Trent Masselink, Sr., D
Westwood: Jairo Salazar, Sr., F
Dec. 17-20: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational (at Mesa H.S.)
Dec. 27-31: Dobson Mustang Classic (at Dobson H.S. and Red Mountain Park)
Dec. 27-30: Arizona Soccer Showcase (at Scottsdale Sports Complex)
Jan. 31: Div. I, II and III state tournaments begin
Feb. 10: Div. III state championship match (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Feb. 11: Div. I and II state championship matches (at Campo Verde H.S.)
Did You Know?
•Under the new division alignments, there are three divisions competing in the winter season. Each division will maintain a 16-team state tournament, where the top three teams in each section (based on power points) earn automatic berths. After those nine are automatically entered, the remaining seven spots will be based on power points. So instead of having to be better than 25-30 teams to make the field, each division will have about 55 programs to complete for those 16 spots.
•Hamilton and the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission have teamed up to co-sponsor the Arizona Soccer Showcase from Dec. 27-30, which will feature 64 teams (boys and girls) from around the country descending upon Scottsdale Sports Complex, many of which are among the top schools in the nation. For more information go to: http://www.phoenixsports.org/arizona-soccer-showcase/