‘Twas not the winter of everyone’s discontent. At least, not for all the basketball players, soccer studs and wrestlers who took their shots, saves and takedowns for glory’s sake and found some.
For others there was heartbreak, and in between were too many tales to (re-) tell, but as “February Frenzy” fades and gives way to another spring’s eternal hope, this was a crazy month to absorb.
So here’s a proverbial sponge to remember and re-hash the best of times:
Corona del Sol repeats the hard way
The Corona del Sol boys basketball team ran roughshod over the competition on its way to last year’s Division I title. The result this year was the same, but the journey wasn’t nearly as easy. It was nearly a quick exit for the eventual state champions. Mountain Pointe had the Aztecs on the ropes three times in the second round, but a three-point play by Casey Benson at the end of regulation, a 3-pointer by Benson to force a second overtime and a 3-pointer by Bryan Siefker late in double overtime lifted Corona to a 66-65 victory. The quarterfinal was another struggle but again Corona del Sol held on by a point against Goodyear Millennium. The team played well to beat Desert Mountain in the semifinals and then used a game-closing 13-2 run to rally and beat Pinnacle, 63-59, for the championship. Four players were in double figures in the title game, as a re-tooled Corona team surprised many with the repeat despite the loss of impact players Calaen Robinson, Avery Moss and Andrus Peat from a year ago.
Back for more
Many of the top boys basketball teams from 2012-13 will be in contention again next season. The Division I semifinalists will each return their best player — Corona del Sol’s Casey Benson, Pinnacle’s Dorian Pickens, Cesar Chavez’s Pablo Rivas and Desert Mountain’s Rolando Rhymes — while Gilbert Christian aims for a three-peat next season behind Sam Jones and Roberto Reyes. State quarterfinalists Gilbert (Truman Moore, Spencer Nicolds, Anthony Bryant) and Mesa (Isaac Allen, Jalen Jenkins and Christian Harris) also have substantial talent returning, while Jake Toolson at Highland, Payton Dastrup at Mountain View and Jordan Howard at Perry look for more team success entering their senior years. This year’s junior class is the best in Arizona history, and many of the key players showed it by leading their teams deep into the postseason. The quality of next year’s play should be even better.
St. Mary’s responds to adversity
For the first time all season, an Arizona opponent put a scare into the powerhouse St. Mary’s girls basketball team. Pinnacle navigated the Knights’ frenetic full-court press and took a six-point lead into halftime in the Division I championship game. After two straight titles and utter domination of in-state opponents, the St. Mary’s dynasty was in danger of falling short of a three-peat. However, the Knights’ six Division I-bound players came out motivated and used a 17-2 third quarter run to take control. St. Mary’s cruised to the 49-37 victory, extending its winning streak against Arizona opponents to 60 games.
Gilbert Christian cruises again
The Knights were preseason No. 1 and impressively never left that perch. They lost three games all season, one to Division I champion Corona del Sol, another to Division I runner-up Pinnacle and the third to Brophy. Gilbert Christian defeated Valley Christian, 60-48, for its second consecutive championship and third in the past four years. Dylan Bliss graduates, but Sam Jones and Roberto Reyes will return for their senior seasons. The Knights will move up to Division II next season where the competition gets tougher. But the program needs it, as there is nothing left to prove on the Division III level.
Saguaro steps up
If any team from the East Valley was going to win the Division II girls basketball title, it figured to be Seton Catholic. The Sentinels entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed and had won the last two titles. However, a late-season injury to point guard Anne Marie Holter was too much to overcome and Seton fell to Tucson Flowing Wells by seven points in the semifinals. Saguaro then grabbed the torch. The Sabercats opened some eyes by beating Seton in the section finals, then beat Washington, No. 1 Bradshaw Mountain and No. 4 Liberty to make the state finals as the No. 8 seed, with nearly all those victories coming thanks to hot 3-point shooting in the fourth quarter. Saguaro defeated Flowing Wells, 49-38, in the championship game for the first girls basketball title in school history.
A weekend full of East Valley wrestling winners was highlighted by the terrific trio of Dalton Brady (Chandler), Alex Bambic (Desert Vista) and Seth Monty (Mountain View), who combined for nine state titles and 12 overall medals combined for the trio’s careers. Brady (Utah Valley) became the 28th wrestler in Arizona history to win four state titles in his career, and did it by wrestling up two weight classes to try and help the Wolves win a team title (Chandler took second behind juggernaut Tucson Sunnyside). He plans to continue his Olympic pursuits for the 2016 or 2020 games despite the tenuous situation surrounding wrestling in future Olympic Games. Bambic dropped a whopping three weight classes during his career and transformed himself from a fifth-place finisher as a freshman at 215 pounds, to a champion at 215 as a sophomore, won it all at 195 pounds as a junior and 182 pounds this year to match Robbie Mathers as three-time state title winners in school history. A three-time finalist in his Toro career, Monty (Arizona State signee) overcame knee surgery a month prior and won his second state title and was one of the more clutch wrestlers in recent years (won three semifinal matches which went to overtime periods). Throw in champions Ben Andrew (Mesa), Glenn Farina and Ethan Tursini (Corona del Sol), Ted Rico (Combs), Keyley Ellis (Gilbert), and Trey Ronayne (Basha) after he returned from Tommy John surgery, and the state tournament offered something remarkable to see every hour of the three-day weekend.
Brophy takes tough road
Clear favorites since the preseason because of returning talent (led by Riggs Lennon) and a couple more talented kids who didn’t play high school soccer last season, Brophy marched its way back to the state championship match for a third consecutive season, where the Broncos won in 2011 and lost in 2012. Broncos coach Marc Kelly made a difficult decision to suspend four starters for the first half of the title match against Desert Vista for excessive celebratory antics following a goal against Tolleson in the semifinals. The reserves played well in place of those starters through halftime, and the Broncos scored twice in the second half to win a third state championship in Kelly’s tenure.
Despite a rich history and deserved expectation of being at least a semifinalist, Xavier wasn’t on the tip of many tongues in state championship discussions. Those were often reserved for defending-champion Highland or powerful Pinnacle. But someone forgot to tell Xavier not to show up, because a Kellie Peay-led defense and a couple timely goals was all it took for the Gators to win a third state championship under coach Barb Chura. The Gators lost up to eight key players at one time or another during the season from injuries and transfers, but Peay, Cassidy Cunningham and Michaela Dooley had big postseason performances. Peay’s second goal of the season in the 1-0 win over Desert Vista allowed Xavier to take home the big trophy.
Campo Verde’s first crown
Sure, the history is short (Campo Verde opened in 2009) but it doesn’t make Campo Verde’s girls soccer team’s title travels any less sweet. Though not without trials and tribulations when junior captain Meg McDowell suffered a torn ACL three minutes into the championship match, the trophy was hoisted after a 1-0 win against Cottonwood Mingus on the Coyotes’ home turf thanks to a scrum in front and rebound goal by Shannon Costello. The Coyotes allowed 11 goals all season and won three state tournament matches with one-goal margins, and the past two seasons of state quarterfinals exits were swept away in celebration.
Quality in Queen Creek
Led by state champion Hayden Moore (170 pounds), Queen Creek is back to business in making waves through Division II wrestling. Second-year coach Tom Wokasch (whose son, Anthony, took second place at 128 pounds) saw significant development with four other placers to help the Bulldogs finish fifth in Div. II. Travis Widmer (108 pounds) placed fourth, Matt Saba (115) took sixth and Tucker Workman placed fifth at 147 pounds. And to make sure Queen Creek wasn’t alone, Derek Craig won a championship at 220 pounds for Marcos de Niza in Div. II.
Drew Bender returns early from ankle injury; Tempe Prep boys and girls hoops make playoff runs; Desert Vista closes in on soccer double-whammy; No. 15 Mesquite nearly knocks out No. 2 Highland in second round of Div. I girls basketball state tournament; Paradise Valley wins Div. II boys state championship; Saguaro’s Kaitlyn Quinn gets onto court in championship game after suffering broken kneecap day before senior night