Highland’s journey to its first girls soccer state championship in 2011-2012 was years in the making, but could a repeat merely take months?
That’s the big question.
The Hawks have the talent and experience to do so. A program which knocked on the door for a few years prior finally broke through last season in overtime/penalty kick fashion against Hamilton, and both teams could be headed back there again.
The Hawks and Huskies aren’t alone by any means. Xavier is and should always be mentioned as a title contender, while Barb Chura’s program returns as many regulars from last year’s semifinals squad as John Berzins’ Hawks. Pinnacle, has Jorian Baucom among the best players in the state, and a bit better health could easily put the Pioneers back into the final four (at least). Red Mountain is in the mix, as is Desert Vista.
And, of course, there’s often a team or two which comes out of nowhere the way Mesquite did a couple years ago, or Arcadia last in Division II.
Speaking of the Titans, they are looking to take that final step after the semifinals appearance last year, and can do so with eight returning starters. A couple major adjustments will come first with new coach Adam Zweiback taking over the program, not to mention the loss of All-State forward Tia Stewart and two other key contributors to graduation.
Campo Verde feels ready to make a move in Div. III, while Higley and Seton Catholic have unfinished business to attend to in its own rights.
Teams to Watch
Arcadia: Eight starters return from last year’s Div. II semifinal squad, and the return of Megan Hawkins up front and Tasha Friedman in the back after missing last year with injuries will help; How quickly can Titans adapt to a new coaching style and score goals and leadership Tia Stewart, Jenny Lewis and Grace Kim provided?
Campo Verde: Went 12-1 in power point matches last year and has reached Div. III quarterfinals the past two years. Despite loss of junior Victoria Dunigan to torn ACL for the season, the Coyotes feel ready to take next step with their depth and versatility. The talent is there, if they can finish plays.
Desert Ridge: The Jaguars are a bitt off the radar, but return all four of its defenders among its seven returning starters, plus return of MF Karina Olivares. Sophomore Ali Coleman leads the forwards after she was the leading scorer last year (track standout).
Desert Vista: A core of six senior starters lead the Thunder, a group which overachieved at times last year, beat a strong field to win the Tempe Diablos tournament and is now in the second go-round of coach Marvin Hypolite’s system.
Hamilton: The Huskies went 18-3-1 in 2011-2012 before they lost in penalty kicks to Highland for the state championship to finish runners-up; 17 returners in MarK Eggleston’s second year running the show, including 10 who started at various points.
Highland: The Hatch sisters (Ashley and Bri) and Jaden DeGrecie are among 24 returning players, including 10 starters from last year’s championship team. Though off to a great start this season, repeating is extremely difficult come tournament time.
Notre Dame: Gary Gregory’s bunch returns eight starters from Div. II semifinals, highlighted by Madison Reisdorf who had 52 combined goals in her freshman/sophomore seasons but was out most of last year with injuries. Kaitlyn Eichorst and Julia Taffuri are the other focal points, plus arguably the best freshman class in school history.
Pinnacle: Jorian Baucom’s healthy (and without U.S. national team commitments) and Kacey Bingham’s team is again loaded with speed and skill. Putting it together ahead of individual goals will be paramount.
Red Mountain: Sydney Schroeder is back after being Mesa’s city player of the year to lead a core group from last year’s 15-1-5 squad which fell to D.V. in first round. Caylee Carter moved to Utah is a big loss, but Stephanie Scarcello returns from torn ACL, Emily Maier led the team in assists last year and sophomore defender Michaela Stevens played every game as freshman.
Valley Christian: A core group of Kelsey Reade, Janelle Hunt, Larae Hunt and Keara Schromm have the Trojans poised to make a deep run in Div. III, and this coming after Dean Sale’s teams played perhaps the school’s best playoff game in a loss against Seton Catholic. Defense will be this team’s M.O.
Xavier: Studs galore: Nikki Walts is a junior scoring machine. So is Michaela Dooley. Cassidy Cunningham, Emily Vandenberg, Kellie Peay, the list goes on. The Gators were Highland’s menace for years until last season, but Barb Chura’s bunch can easily return to its old ways.
Players to Watch
Haley Adams, Mountain View: The forward led the Toros in goals and assists in 2011-2012 as a sophomore; With some help from her friends up front on offense Mountain View could be a playoff team.
Jorian Baucom, Pinnacle: The junior forward is as good as there is when healthy, evidenced by her freshman year two years ago. Injuries, U.S. National Team commitments and other extracurriculars last season left last season incomplete, but the Pioneers are a top-notch team when this scoring machine is playing well and her teammates will offer plenty of help this season.
Kelsey Cartwright, Corona del Sol: Considered the best leader in Matt Smith’s long tenure at Corona del Sol, the senior midfielder possess skill and athleticism. intangibles coupled with Cartwright’s offense are pivotal alongside Stephanie Petre up front; committed to North Dakota.
Shannon Costello, Campo Verde: A multi-year captain, the senior defender/midfielder has Pepperdine among several scholarship offers and makes a dynamic duo with teammate and last year’s Section Player of the Year in midfielder Meg McDowell.
Jaden DeGracie, Highland: The senior midfielder had a school-record 41 assists in a season last year and was Gatorade Player of the Year in the state; Her thrown-ins alone are arguably the team’s most dangerous weapon.
Ashley Hatch, Highland: Already Highland’s career record holder in points (221) and goals (86). The Tribune Player of the Year as a junior will follow up on a school-record 33 goals in 2011-2012 to lead a core group back from the title team, including younger sister Bri (20 goals and 11 assists as freshman).
Kylie Miniefield, Hamilton: The sophomore was Hamilton’s leading scorer as a freshman and played a huge role in last year’s postseason run for the Huskies, and a talented group of teammates returns; Also played on the national ODP team.
Kelsey Reade, Valley Christian: A state qualifier in track and cross country, the senior captain has 28 career goals to go with her 4.0 grade point average
Madison Reisdorf, Notre Dame: The senior forward missed most of last season because of injuries, but had a combined 52 goals as a freshman and sophomore as the Saints have sights on a state title.
Other players to watch
Arcadia: Missy Dominick, Jr., MF; Abby Schneider, Jr., GK; Nicole Fisk, Sr., MF; Annie Sherman, Jr., MF; Tasha Friedman, Sr., D; Campo Verde: Meg McDowell, Jr., MF; Brianna Olsen, Sr., MF; Corona del Sol: Steph Petre, Sr., F; Olivia Montoya, Sr., MF; Lexi Bounds, Jr., GK; Desert Ridge: Ali Coleman, So., F; Ana Morris, Sr., MF; Josie Palacios, Jr., D; Kilean Wiles, Sr., D; Desert Vista: Rachel Ressler, Sr., F; Hannah Stevens, Sr., D; Alison Richardson, Sr., D; Tassia Saunders, Sr., MF; Kelly Waston, Sr., D; Gilbert: Jemma Cota, Sr., MF; Hamilton: Gabby Martinez, Sr., D; Highland: Bri Hatch, So., MF; Brena Jarvis, Sr., F; Bre McCarter, Jr., MF; Paige Morris, Sr., MF; McClintock: Bre Sage, Sr., GK; Natalie McKee, Jr., F; Lorissa Schroder, Jr. MF; Mesa: Aubrey Blau, Sr., F; Jordyn Diepstraten, So., MF; Logan Fischer, Jr., MF; Loey Moen, So., MF; Gabriella Torres, Sr., D; Mountain Pointe: Cera Hassinan, Sr., F; Kaitelin Warren, Sr., MF; Ashley Munchak, junior D; Clare Wilmink, Jr., D; Mountain View: Bryanna Hadder, Sr., GK; Maya Salas, Sr., MF; Notre Dame: Kaitlyn Eichorst, Sr., MF; Julia Taffuri, So., D; Perry: Marisa Costagliola, Jr., F; Samantha DeMarco, Sr., GK; Seana Saladrigas, Sr., MF; Ansley Warner, Jr., F; Red Mountain: Tia Cummins, Sr., D; Emily Maier, Jr., D; Marissa Stevens, Sr., MF; Valley Christian: Jenelle Hunt, Sr., MF; Larae Hunt, Sr., D; Taylor Robertson, Sr., D; Keara Schrommm, So., MF. Xavier: Nikki Walts, Jr., MF; Michaela Dooley, Sr., F; Kellie Peay, Jr., D
• No more shootouts or penalty kicks in the regular season. Matches will go to the pair of 10-minute overtime periods and if there’s no scoring by the end of the second OT session, the match ends in a tie. Penalty kicks will continue after the pair of overtime sessions during the state tournaments.
• The National Federation of High School Associations passed a rule. As it has previously existed and will continue to do so, two yellow cards on a player equals a red card, which means the player must sit out the rest of the match and is suspended for the next match. Now, the player’s team must play shorthanded for the remainder of that initial match.
• Besides being a favorite to repeat as state champions while hoisting the proverbial target on its back, Highland has three sets of sisters on varsity: Ashley and Brianna Hatch, Lauren Lovell and Ashlyn Lovell and Paige and Cassidy Morris.
• Coaching changes: Adam Zweiback takes over a surging program at Arcadia, as he replaces Daniel Polan who stepped down at the end of last season. The Titans are coming off a state semifinals appearance despite being a No. 10 seed last year, but lose three key players to graduation. Zweiback brings more than 25 years of coaching experience to the pitch. Chris Diana replaces Tim McKee as Horizon’s coach.
Dec. 3-8: Tournament of Champions (at Reach 11 Sports Complex, Rose Mofford Sports Complex and Horizon H.S.)
Dec. 7-8: Cactus Cup Invitational (at Desert Ridge H.S.)
Dec. 10: Pinnacle at Xavier
Dec. 15-22: Mesa Jackrabbit Invitational (at Mesa H.S.)
Dec. 26-31: Dobson Mustang Classic (at Red Mountain Park and Dobson H.S.)
Dec. 27-31: Arizona Soccer Showcase (at Scottsdale Park)
Jan. 8: Hamilton at Xavier
Jan. 30: State tournaments begin
Feb. 8-9: State championship matches
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.