Spring, well, sprung.
The heat is on, but competition on and off the fields, courts and tracks turned hot from late February through mid-May.
More champions were crowned, more controversy swirled and more memories made.
Summer has come, but before everyone screams Alice Cooper’s anthemic “School’s Out,” let’s pause to reflect on the past few months for better, worse or both.
Power Points fixed?
After fall and winter seasons were plagued by questions surrounding the power points formula, the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Executive Board passed an amendum to the formula that alters what many viewed as an alleged flaw in the system. The tweak was immediately implemented into the spring sports’ rankings and re-implemented a baseline standard of games played that’s divisible by a school’s total power points. Previously, that number varied and the perception was more games played meant more power points (win or lose), which became a controversial point during basketball sectional tournaments in the winter because some schools were afforded extra games toward qualifying for the state tournaments. Some schools were working hard to schedule more games during the spring so as not to be punished by the alleged flaw, but the modification passed in mid-March quelled that concern.
State tournament revision
The postseason took on a new look this year after the reconfiguration of the classifications. Among the bigger changes, boys volleyball played a doubleheader on its first day, and many tournament fields were expanded from 16 to 24 teams. The baseball and softball formats seemed to work out nicely. The top eight seeds earned a first-round bye, and the double-elimination tournament consisted of eight teams, not 16 as in the past, which streamlined the process. The biggest beef came in volleyball, where Gilbert had the home court advantage in the semifinals and finals because it was the pre-determined neutral site. Overall, the formats seemed to be met with positivity.
Dylan Cozens is the most polarizing baseball player in the state, but his talent can’t be questioned. Chaparral’s star right fielder blasted a first-pitch fastball over the left-center field fence in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Firebirds a season-ending 5-3 win in the Division I state title game against Brophy. Eligibility questions dogged Cozens for nearly a year after he transferred to Chaparral after getting kicked off the Desert Mountain team last season, but he was allowed to play this whole year, and showed why he’s such a highly-regarded prospect. Cozens finished the year with a state-leading 19 home runs and will be drafted by a major league club in June. He also has a scholarship to play football and baseball at Arizona if he chooses college.
With Red Mountain’s third consecutive big-school softball state championship came a couple “firsts:” First, the Lions became the first Class 5A-level school to win three consecutive championships. Second, for the first time since the state tournament format introduced double-elimination into the fold in 2006, Red Mountain’s championship (its fourth since ‘06) didn’t require a trip through the loser’s bracket. Whether it constitutes a dynasty is purely subjective, but how much longer will this last? Given the success Basha has enjoyed the past six years, not to mention the likes of Gilbert, Horizon and Glendale Mountain Ridge, it’s hard to bet against the field in the near future. Then again, the same thing could have been said three years ago.
Bryan Rice resigns
The man who built Desert Mountain into a baseball powerhouse is no longer running the show at the Scottsdale school. A part of the program since the school opened in the mid-1990’s and the head coach for the past dozen years, Rice’s departure came shortly after the Wolves were eliminated in a pair of one-run losses in the state tournament. Reasons behind the change haven’t been revealed, but allegations of impropriety in the baseball program have been brought forth by a group of parents, most recently involving money taken from camps and clinics, and whether Desert Mountain used youth camps hosted by the school as a possible recruiting tool. Rice led the Wolves to then-5A Division II championship game appearances in 2010 and 2007, along with four other semifinals appearances (2000, 2003, 2004, 2008) and three Desert Valley Region championships (2011, 2009, 2003).
Bad news, good news for Chandler track
Another state championship for the Chandler track and field team was never in doubt, but the Wolves did it without one of the team’s staples. Star jumper/sprinter Jasmine Todd amassed seven state titles in her first three years of high school and set a state triple jump record this year, but tore her anterior cruciate ligament in early April which ended her year. Todd still has a bright future in the sport, but she missed out on a final eye-popping performance at the state meet because of her injury. Sophomore teammate Ky Westbrook became the athlete to watch and didn’t disappoint. She dominated the 100- and 200-meter dashes, ran anchor in Chandler’s state-title-winning 4x100 relay and finished second in the shot put. The Wolves scored 147 points to cruise to the title, and their dominance doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
Gilbert gets one
The Gilbert boys volleyball team wasn’t shying away from it. The Tigers knew they were the favorites to win this year’s state championship, and with the scheduling quirk that put the ‘neautral’ semifinals and championship matches on their home floor, luck was with them, too. It also helped to have star Cody Martin all season, as a knee injury during the basketball season never affected him in volleyball. Many teams have faltered as the favorites, but not Gilbert. Martin had a season-high 31 kills in a 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 25-20 victory over Brophy as the Tigers claimed their first state championship.
Allen dominates at Arcadia
Some of the best track athletes in the country faced off at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational on April 6 and 7, and it was Devon Allen who stole the show. The Brophy sprinter/hurdler set records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles and also captured first place the 200-meter dash. He ran a leg in the Broncos’ victorious 4x100-meter relay, and his performance made Allen the meet’s Male Outstanding Performer. He was nearly as impressive at the state meet. Allen won the 110- and 300-meter hurdles and finished second by a hundredth of a second to Deer Valley’s Trae Armstrong in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He still has one year left in high school and then will likely run track and play football in college.
Family feud? Hardly. Following older sister Kelsey Lawson’s successful tennis trail at Corona del Sol from a couple years ago, younger brother Alex Lawson followed suit for four years. After Alex defeated friend and part-time USTA doubles partner Nic Montoya for the Div. I singles title in 2011, Lawson dropped the first set to Chaparral’s Nolan Bauer (who edged Montoya in the semifinals), but Lawson again came back to beat the late-April heat and Bauer in the second and third sets to win his fourth high school state title (two in doubles, two in singles). Lawson won doubles titles as a freshman and sophomore, then singles titles as a junior and a senior. He’s off to play college tennis at Notre Dame this fall.
Favor to the favorites
It’s not often preseason-anything comes true, but outside perception might have earned a clean sweep this spring. From baseball (Chaparral and Brophy met in the Div. I championship), softball (Red Mountain and Basha met again in the Div. I title game) and boys volleyball (Gilbert won its first title in school history), the status quo stood strong. Even in tennis, Corona del Sol’s Alex Lawson (Div. I) and Campo Verde junior Dominic Patrick (Div. II) successfully repeated as individual state champions. Xavier’s girls tennis team knocked off defending-champion Desert Mountain, but the Gators weren’t exactly underdogs, and thanks to a 3-hour, 45-minute match in the heat by No. 6 singles player Alex Curtis, Brophy won its third title in the past four years.