The equity and fairness of whether the current power rankings system tell the true story of a high school season is a never-ending argument, and this year’s girls soccer schedule is no exception.
But outside a couple spots, most think the final power points painted a spot-on picture this season.
Culminating with the state tournaments that begin at the Class 5A and 4A levels on Tuesday (1A/2A/3A begins next weekend), a “tier” system developed this season.
At the 5A-I level, Hamilton (No. 2 in power points), defending champion-Xavier (No. 1) and Highland (No. 3) have separated themselves (if only slightly) from the pack.
Hamilton is (understandably) a slight favorite after the Huskies went undefeated with perhaps its most talented team in school history under the guidance of first-year coach Jason Thompson. But the Huskies’ second-round (quarterfinals) appearance last year was as far as they’ve gone.
Xavier is full of freshmen and sophomores but has been in the semifinals each of the past four years. Highland coach John Berzins believes he has a better overall team than last year’s version which lost in controversial fashion to Xavier in the semifinals.
Twice in the past three years the once-favored Hawks have been foiled in the semifinals, but last year’s wild finish has not been a coaching conversation around the Hawks after a second semifinals exit the past three years.
“We can’t leave it in someone else’s hands, we have to take care of our own business,” Berzins said. “It’s good to be good at the right time, because there’s no more cruising to get there anymore. There are too many good teams.”
The other problem for those schools is the pack behind them is quite good (Gilbert, Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe, Corona del Sol, Red Mountain and Mesquite) and pretty experienced in big-time tournament play.
Plus there are Yuma and Tucson schools that are a great unknown to most Valley coaches who haven’t seen or have any eyewitness accounts of their abilities.
“I think 1-through-7, Red Mountain and Mesquite, any of those could be in the finals,” said Corona coach Matt Smith, whose Aztecs are in-line to play a difficult first-round matchup against brother, Scott, and Central Region foe Mesquite. “Then any of them could win. You’ll see a lot of predictability in the first round and then after that I have no idea.”
In 5A-II the Desert Valley was top dog (defending-champion Desert Mountain, Pinnacle and Chaparral are all in the top 10 of power points) and join Marana Mountain View and Tucson Ironwood Widge as the consensus top 5 teams in coaches’ opinions.
Marcos de Niza (No. 6) is right there as coach Chris Carr’s Padres have arguably the best offensive player in the state in Alex Doller, plus Cheyenne Walker and a solid defense led by Gabby Varela, Kristin Sankey and Julie Bennett.
In 4A-II it’s a similar pattern. Undefeated Notre Dame (in power point matches) hasn’t sidestepped the pain of losing kids to injuries and a torrid rainstorm in last season’s tournament. In response to the 2010 finish, the Saints earned this year’s No. 1 spot with a deep squad that coach Scot Bemis has spread out playing time.
“We’ve talked about it last week, (Thursday) night before and after practice,” Bemis said. “Hopefully, I think the girls have a little fear of not winning the last game they play. You get one shot at it and that’s how we preach (the tournament). Now we have to walk the walk and get it done.”
Four different coaches in 4A-II all considered Notre Dame (No. 1), Flagstaff (No. 2), Cottonwood Mingus (No. 3), Thunderbird (No. 4) and Arcadia (No. 5) to be the top contenders, with Williams Field (No. 6) in the next tier.
Outside the lines, the big change is that the first two rounds of all these tournaments are being playing at neutral site in hopes of creating a more tournament-type atmosphere with several matches going on at the same time at the same place.
Supporters like the tournament atmosphere concept, similar to what the AIA did a couple years ago at the Tempe Sports Complex. Critics are unhappy that earning a top-8 seed doesn’t yield at least one home match, having to play on various-sized fields and that costs aren’t being accounted for on schools’ behalf because both teams require bus transportation instead of one.
Between the lines, however, many see all four of these tournaments as no more concrete than pulling a school name out of a hat and declaring them champions.
“You used to have to only have to navigate semifinals and finals,” Smith said. “Now you have to navigate three or even four games to win. That’s how deep and potentially fun the next couple weeks will be.”