The stakes just became much greater.
An Arizona soccer world that was already growing by leaps and bounds in the past five years has now grown more difficult by those same lengths. For some schools, a win or loss in November, December or January can mean the difference between playoffs and a pity-party.
As if the competition wasn't difficult enough - especially in the higher divisions - the move from five conferences down to three divisions (Division IV soccer is primarily northern Arizona schools played in the fall) means a lot more competition and a lot less margin for error to be among the top 16 schools left come February.
Three automatic berths from each of the three sections within each division that's based on power points, plus seven at-large schools from the rest of the division, also determined by power points.
Division I now has 52 teams and Division II has 55 teams. Under the previous system, 5A Division I had 31 schools, and 5A-II had 32, while 4A-I had 33 schools and 4A-II had 35 teams.
It means juggernauts such as former 5A-II standout Pinnacle are now part of Division I, while teams such as Cactus Shadows and Notre Dame will duke it out in Division II.
Division III, however is going to be a wide mix of former 2A schools up through a smattering of those formerly from 4A-I and 4A-II.
In addition to the drastic reduction of divisions (cited as necessary to reduce travel costs and increase legitimacy of qualifying for the state tournaments), the unbalanced schedules of schools who'll play some teams twice within their section, and not play others, has caused consternation among many coaches.
No matter what, an increase in competition this winter means top schools will be playing out in the cold at the same time a few more otherwise-worthy schools will be left out in the cold.
E.V. Teams to Watch
Cactus Shadows: The Falcons lost in the 4A-I semifinals a year ago, but Jeff Vittorio's team is loaded with experienced juniors ready to make a run in Division II.
Campo Verde: Return nearly a dozen starters from last year's quarterfinals team in 4A-I; Tough schedule/tournaments will only help as will bump to Div. III.
Corona del Sol: Eight returning starters means depth and defense, but Aztecs need offensive help after Mackenzie Bader torn her ACL for a second time in 2 years.
Desert Ridge: Jaguars have nine regulars back, including eight who've been starters together for two years.
Desert Vista: New coach Marvin Hypolite's team will need time, but a half-dozen key contributors return from the 2010 semifinals.
Hamilton: New coach Mark Eggleston has six starters back from last year's championship team; Defense should be strength again.
Highland: Ashley Hatch is a stud (and only a junior), but six other Hawks starters are back as well for this perennially contending team.
Notre Dame: Returns eight starters from last year's 4A-II runner-up squad that's also playing for its ailing coach in Scot Bemis who's battling lung cancer
Pinnacle: Defending champs from 5A-II return loaded led by sophomore Jorian Baucom; Big-time scorers have a couple new pieces on defense, but that's hardly a long-term problem.
Xavier: With 16 players and nine starters back from runners-up in 2010, Nichole Walts, Emily Holzmeister, Kellie Peay and co. are really good, possibly better than last year.
Players to Watch
Jorian Baucom, Pinnacle, So., F: U.S. National Youth team player had 39 goals as a freshman; Watch her and it's easy to see why.
Laura Glew, Hamilton, Sr., GK: All-State-caliber performer as a junior between the posts, the defense is younger and her communication/leadership in back will be key for Huskies' repeat hopes.
Ashley Hatch, Highland, Jr., F: A supurb offensive threat since her freshman year (24 goals 9 assists), she had 29 goals and 27 assists last year and entered this season 17 goals away from breaking the school record.
Cadie Naquin, Notre Dame, Sr., MF: Along with Madison Reisdorf and Lucy O'Leary to form the Saints' core that has championship aspirations; Headed to Columbia University next fall.
Nicolette Newcomb, Corona del Sol, Sr., MF: Newcomb and Cara Ridley are being counted upon to pick up the offense after Mackenzie Bader tore her ACL for a second time in two years.
Nichole Walts, Xavier, So., MF: 22 goals, 9 assists as a freshman and has an experienced supporting cast around her.
Other Players to Watch
Apache Junction: Lauren Brownlee, MF, Sr.; Dannielle Glass, F, So.; Cassidy Kessler, D, Sr., Breanna Milkey, MF, Sr.
Arcadia: Missie Dominick, So., MF/D; Grace Lewis, Sr., MF; Jenny Lewis, Sr., D; Annie Sherman, So., MF; Tianna Stewart, Sr., F
Basha: Amy Fuller, D, Jr.; Bailey Jenkins, D, So.; Jazmarie Mader, F, So.; Austin Overson, F, So.; Tiana Pretzer, GK, So.; Kelly Shearon, MF, So.
Cactus Shadows: Brenna Leech, Sr., MF/D; Katelyn Mardeusz, Jr., MF/F; Cassie Miller, Jr., GK; Jordan Nelson, Sr., D; Kelli Reid, Jr., MF/F; Saige Williams, Sr., D/F
Campo Verde: Lainy Bishop, F, So.; Alissa Carroll, F, Jr.; Shannon Costello, D, Jr.; Marissa Duniagan, D, Sr.; Victoria Dunigan, F, So.; Ashley Hepner, D, Sr.; Meg McDowell, MF, So.; Breanna Olsen, MF, Jr.
Coronado: Dalia Hernandez, So., MF; Irma Nino, Jr., MF; Selia Paderes, Sr., MF
Corona del Sol: Kelsey Cartwright, Jr., D; Olivia Montoya, Jr., D; Stephanie Petre, Jr., D; Cara Ridley, Sr., MF;
Desert Mountain: Olivia Gran, Jr., MF/F; Darby Price, Sr., D; Lianne Wagner, So., GK; Danielle Zeidler, So., D/MF.
Desert Ridge: Micah Kandiyeli, Sr., GK; Kristin Long, Sr., MF; Raini Weller, Sr., F; Kilean Wiles, Jr., D
Gilbert: Kaylin Goodenough, Sr., F.
Hamilton: Kelsey Merrigan, Sr., MF; Rachel Shedd, Sr., D; Emmy Ravenhill, Sr., MF
Higley: Danielle Nelson, Sr., F; Coretta Nolan, Sr., F; Madison Harrison, So., GK
Highland: Molly Celler, Sr., D; Jaden Degracie, Jr., MF; Brianna Hatch, Fr., F
Horizon: Tia Blackwell, Jr. D/MF; Megan Ettinger, Sr, MF.; Kyndra Hargens, Jr., D; Bri Robinson, Sr., GK/D; Shea Strand, Sr., MF; Madison Zeller, So., MF/D
Mesquite: Dani Schulz, GK, Sr.; Haley St. Clair, MF, Sr.; Tina Taylor, D, Sr
Notre Dame: Kati Eichorst, Jr., D; Rachel Jones, So., D; Maura Kelly, Sr., D; Lucy O'Leary, Sr., MF; Cadie Naquin, Sr., MF; Madison Reisdorf, Jr., F
Perry: Sam DeMarco, Jr., GK; Brooke Hudson, Sr., F; Emily Romer, Sr., D
Pinnacle: Lauren Doud, Sr., MF; Missy Kettelkamp, Jr., D; Maddie Kmetko, So., MF
Red Mountain: Kaitlin Artt, Sr., MF; Jess Garner, Sr., GK; Alyssa Guana, Sr., F; Noel Munoz, Sr., D; Tia Cummins, Jr., D
Valley Christian: Kelsey Reade, Jr., F
Westwood: Virginia Jamie, Sr., D; Hayden Johnson, Sr., F; Courtney Odom, Sr., MF;
Williams Field: Marita Hill, D, Sr.; Taylor Laubhan, F, Sr.; Madison Smith, F, Jr.
Xavier: Cassidy Cunningham, Jr., MF; Emily Holzmeister, Sr., MF; Kellie Peay, So., D;
Dec. 17-22: 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. 6: Xavier at Pinnacle
Jan. 6: Hamilton at Corona del Sol
Jan. 10: Gilbert at Highland
Jan. 24: Mesquite at Highland; Notre Dame at Cactus Shadows
Feb. 1: First round state tournament matches
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?
• Gary Gregory was the interim football coach for Scot Bemis at Notre Dame while Bemis battled lung cancer, and the same holds true on the soccer field. Gregory will run this year's Saints squad which reached the 4A-II state championship match last year.
• 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/
• Popular Desert Vista coach Paul Manoogian left the Thunder last spring, and Marvin Hypolite is now in charge of the Thunder. Manoogian guided the Thunder to two state championship match appearances and two more semifinal matches. At Hamilton, Mark Eggleston leads the defending 5A-I champion Huskies this season after taking over for Jason Thompson. Eggleston was Campo Verde's boys coach, and also coached at Westwood. He's also active in the San Tan Valley-area club soccer scene.
• Corona del Sol has two sets of twins in Cara and Brooke Ridley (both midfielders and Nos. 11 and 12 to make it even more confusing), plus Taylor and Dallas Johnson. The sets of twins were born three days apart. Not to be outdone, Perry has three sets of sisters on its varsity squad: The Romers, Gortons and Hudsons.