For an early season tournament, there is plenty of importance at the Mustang Classic for the Chandler Hamilton boys soccer team.
The Huskies are coming off a year where they missed the playoffs and have a new coach in long-time Mesa Dobson coach Nick Markette. A good showing in the tournament this week at Red Mountain Park could go a long way toward establishing the Huskies in the brutal Fiesta Region.
“A lot of it is mental in the high school game — people just willing themselves to wins,” Markette said after the Huskies’ 4-0 win over Mesa Red Mountain on Thursday. “In our particular region, we have some programs, Gilbert, (Gilbert) Highland and Chandler have some really mentally tough teams and we are developing that.”
Four other teams from the region — including state finalists Gilbert and Highland — were in the final 16 a year ago and Hamilton wants to get to where they were two seasons ago, playing on the final week of the season.
“We’re developing that culture, little by little,” said Markette.
On Thursday, Hamilton seemed to take a small step with the pool play victory over Red Mountain on the second day of the tournament.
“I think if we get in the right mind-set, this team is capable of anything,” captain Nicholas Dlugas said. “We came out flat (Wednesday) and weren’t ready to play. The result was a loss.”
In the win, freshman Bryan Suarez got the best of Lion goalkeeper Michael Smith. In the sixth minute, he scored on a cross that bounced past Smith. Just 20 minutes later, he got a free ball, tapped it to an open Dlugas, who put it away in the lower right corner. Nicholas Armstrong and Russell Stewart added goals in the second half.
“High school is tough, you play with the guys only two or three months,” Dlugas said. “We are just trying to get to know each other a little better — getting chemistry.”
But Hamilton showed that on Thursday. Crisp passing and sound fundamentals carried the Huskies past a Mountain Lion team still looking for some identity. Red Mountain held little of the play in the match and never seriously threatened Hamilton keeper Christopher Creamer.
“We’re not scoring goals,” Red Mountain coach Jim Thames said. “That’s our big problem. We’re, right now, just trying to search for an answer. It hasn’t come yet.”
Hamilton holds its tournament destiny in its hands. It meets rival Chandler in the final pool play game. A place in Saturday’s quarterfinals is waiting if the Huskies can win.
“We want a fourth game,” Markette said. “Chandler and Hamilton are rivals. It should be a fun match. They want to beat us. I think we both know we could both win.”
Having won its first two games — against Red Mountain and a 3-2 win Thursday over Phoenix Central — fifth-ranked Chandler is in the quarterfinals. Top-ranked Highland is in control of Pool A. Gilbert and Mountain Pointe are also undefeated in their pools.