As the high school soccer regular season comes to a close at the end of the upcoming week, it’s been interesting to see the typical cast of annual championship contenders hovering atop the Division I power rankings. And yet it’s easy to wonder if a shakeup might be forthcoming this postseason.
On the boys’ side, the regulars are lined up again: Hamilton, Brophy, Gilbert, Glendale Ironwood and Desert Vista sit in pretty good shape. But party crashers are lurking. Chandler has two losses this season to Hamilton (including the Tempe Diablo tournament championship match) and another to Gilbert, but the Wolves have played, numerically speaking, the most difficult schedule in Div. I and enter the weekend with a legitimate chance of earning a top-8 playoff spot.
Basha, too, is in the thick of this. The Bears have a tough road left with Hamilton (Friday night), Highland and Mesa, and the Jackrabbits are better than their record indicates because of who and how they’ve played. Desert Vista also lurks.
On the girls’ side, again, the regulars have taken their usual spots in the upper echelon of the rankings: Pinnacle, Highland, Hamilton and Xavier. But go a little deeper and there’s a surging Perry team that knocked off Highland last week, and the Pumas could earn themselves a home match in the first round with at least two wins in their final three matches. The Firebirds and Desert Mountain have improved substantially this season.
Then there’s Corona del Sol, which lost 3-0 to Xavier two weeks ago but has lost every other Arizona match this season (vs. Chandler, Highland and Mountain View) by a 1-0 margin. The Aztecs have a strong defense and a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Basha has a difficult stretch run with Hamilton, Highland and Mesa on the schedule left, but it’s exactly what the up-and-coming Bears need to stay in the thick of the playoffs in what’s already been a solid season for Greg Johnson’s team.
Xavier, Hamilton, Highland, Pinnacle and the like will always be girls’ title threats. So too, will Brophy, Hamilton and Gilbert boys. The difference this year, however, is the undertow of teams behind them appears stronger than last season.
And we all know what can happen in “one-and-done” playoff formats.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.