Seedings are etched in ink and schedules are complete, and as the boys and girls soccer state tournaments begin this coming week, and it’s promising to be one full of shakeups.
An influx of East Valley newcomers and schools which may not otherwise roll off the tongue have carved themselves a place in prominent spots inside the brackets, and it could lead to a bounty of new faces going to new places the next two weeks.
The usual contenders are alive and kicking on the boys (Brophy, Hamilton, Gilbert) and girls side (Pinnacle, Xavier, Hamilton), but others spent the past two months declaring their intentions to stick around a bit longer, and it just might happen.
Coach: Brian Snyder
Record (power rankings matches)/Seed: 6-4-2/No. 15
If the record and seeding doesn’t leave you shivering, consider the Bears haven’t had a winning record since 2007 (somewhat similar to the girls squad), and their only tournament appearance was a first-round exit in 2008. The Bears were young this year, but the defense returned four of the team’s five starters, and it’s proved its meddle in front of GKs Austin Brooks and freshman Gage Rogers. Senior Kevin Beck and junior Bryan Padilla have been offensive standouts. Losses to Perry, Hamilton, Gilbert and Chandler might not be completely unexpected, and wins over Mesa and Perry have helped the Bears cause (in between were ties against Highland, Red Mountain, Cactus Shadows and Peoria Liberty, the latter two came in tournaments). The matchup won’t be favorable in the first round, but the Bears won’t face an elite team early in the tournament, and a win or two is reasonable.
Coach: Greg Johnson
Record (power rankings matches)/Seed: 10-2/No. 6 (Div. I)
The Bears haven’t been to a state tournament since 2007, and the one time before that was as a Class 4A school in 2005. Not only will they see at least one home match in the tournament as a top-8 seed, but the Bears won the section title ahead of Chandler, Hamilton, Highland and Perry, among others. “If you bet me a paycheck before the season that would happen, I’d never have taken it,” Johnson said. Yet being at this juncture was the expectation in November, as was the possibility of being perfect heading into January (it didn’t happen thanks to an opening night loss to Mountain View). A recurring theme with these so-called “upstart” squads has been depth, and the Bears fit the mold having managed without two key starters for an extended period of time in Austin Overson and Kaitlyn Parsons. But Nicole Hildebrand and Alyssa Lamb have been instrumental in keeping this squad together with help from Bailey Jenkins, Brenna Cesmat, Kayla Glenn and sophomore Hannah Householder. The Mountain View misstep, a tie against Mesquite in the Dobson Mustang Classic in which the Bears still won the tournament championship, and a 3-1 loss to Perry in early January are the team’s hiccups, and the team hasn’t allowed a goal since Jan. 14. “I’ve probably coached less this year than any of my 13 years (coaching high school soccer) because we’ve been pretty self-sufficient and have a lot of seniors,” Johnson said. “I’ve asked for more input from players and sometimes allow them to decide whether to make adjustments. I’m trying to leave things alone.”
Coach: Sasha Hunter
Record (power rankings matches)/Seed: 10-2/No. 3 (Division I)
This isn’t Chandler’s first rodeo of soccer success after a 10-7 record in 2013 (though the Wolves fell short of the playoffs) and a trip to the quarterfinals in 2012, but this is the best of Hunter’s three teams. It didn’t take shape, however, until a second loss to Hamilton in four days. After beating Corona del Sol and a top-notch Gilbert team, Chandler was dominated by the Huskies in a 2-0 loss in the Tempe Diablo tournament. Four days later, the Wolves and Huskies met again to begin the crux of the power rankings season. Chandler took a 1-0 lead and played Hamilton evenly until the Huskies forced a tie late in regulation and won late in double overtime. Still, confidence in Chandler only grew. “We’re going to keep pushing, and it took three years to build but the program is starting to follow along, kids are believing, and that’s more than half the battle,” Hunter said. A 4-0 thumping by Gilbert in mid-January was the team’s only letdown since that second Hamilton matchup, including wins against Highland, Perry and Red Mountain. Shared playing time has led to increased depth and 13 players have scored this season, led by Jairo Castro and Don Tchilao. “They love playing and listen and respect each other and have stayed together,” said Hunter, who’s either played or coached around the Southeast Valley since age 5. “No cliques. We’ve taken care of business and done it with character. The ones who are here have earned and want to be a part of this.”
Coach: Jason Dunn
Record (power rankings matches)/Seed: 10-1-1/No. 3 (Div. I)
It’s not like Perry hasn’t seen the postseason. The Pumas reached the quarterfinals in 2013 before being shut out by Pinnacle in the quarterfinals. Still, a coaching change led to Jason Dunn’s hiring, and the team’s four seniors (Briana Destefano, Renjae Burch, Ansley Warner, Marisa Costagliola) have college soccer in their respective futures. Beyond, however, lies a 17-person junior class. That’s meant depth, offensive balance, and, perhaps most importantly, role acceptance. Warner has been the “glue” to this year’s team, while junior Makenna Dunn still leads a deep team (six players have at least 10 total points this season) even though she moved from her natural defender spot, to forward early in the season, and was moved back to sweeper midway through the season. The Pumas lost twice to Hamilton, once to Pinnacle and were roughed up by elite California teams in the Arizona Showcase Soccer tournament in December, but are perfect so far in 2014. “This year everyone has accepted their role and how they contribute. That spells success with these girls because we’re not fighting with each other, or coaches, or parents,” Jason Dunn said. “...You don’t fix something that’s still working. I’m trying to develop that philosophy with these girls.”
Other potential party-crashers: Corona del Sol girls; Desert Vista girls; Highland boys; Mountain View girls; Tempe boys (Div. II); Valley Christian girls (Div. III);
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.