VX Best of 2009-2010 - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

VX Best of 2009-2010

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Posted: Monday, June 21, 2010 12:26 pm | Updated: 3:38 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

That's a wrap.

OK. That's not true, but the 2009-10 high school year couldn't possibly fit in these pages. Too many moments of awe, wonder, jubilation and consternation.

'Tis but a morsel of what was an eight-month gorgefest, but we've cobbled together a few of those "Remember when ...," "Did you see?" and "What were they thinking?" moments.

These were the days:

Busken's Back

One of the most polarizing East Valley high school sports figures in the past decade returns. Former Mountain View football coach Bernie Busken won three state championships in the late 1990s, but allegations of verbal and physical abuse toward players was followed by a school district investigation which led to Busken's departure. He bounced around small colleges and high schools in the Southwest until the end of March, when Basha brought him back to the E.V. after the school parted ways with Tim McBurney, the only coach the school ever had.

Mighty Mesa

In August, Hamilton coach Steve Belles said to watch out for Mesa, but the Jackrabbits didn't distinguish themselves during the new "All-Star" Fiesta Region schedule. They lost close calls to Chandler, Red Mountain and Brophy, and played one game without several players who were suspended by coach Kelley Moore. Thanks to its strength of schedule and 6-0 non-region record, Mesa still managed a playoff spot as a No. 12 seed, and that's when the fun began. The Jackrabbits beat Red Mountain and Brophy, then hung on late to give Mountain Pointe its only loss of the season in the state semifinals. Mesa lost to Hamilton in the Jackrabbits' first championship game since 1992, but showed that neighborhood kids with barely any Division I college suitors - and some with difficult upbringings - could succeed under the belief that "we" is greater than "me."

Mighty Mesa, Part 2

Speaking of neighborhood kids, Dobson did the same thing in girls basketball that Mesa did in football, and then some. Despite a fourth-place finish in the Central Region and loss to Gilbert in the region tournament, Tyler Dumas' team rallied around center Kameron Knutson and a deep, steady backcourt. The Mustangs won their first playoff game in Dumas' five years as coach, and never stopped. A win against Chandler put Dobson into the title game against club-ball-dominant St. Mary's. Despite being full-court pressured on nearly every possession, Andrea Jones banked in a 3-pointer to force overtime, then Jones, battling a cold, hit a runner in the lane with four seconds left for the game-winner and Dobson's first state title.

The comeback

Chandler had not beaten Hamilton in football before, but in early October, it looked like that would change. The Wolves had a 20-10 lead with 3:49 to play, and had been dominating the contest from start to finish. But the Huskies scored two touchdowns in the last 1:49 - capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Travis Dean to Kyren Poe with three seconds to play - to rally for the improbable victory. Chandler quarterback Brett Hundley seemed to have a game-clinching touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, but the play was called back because of holding, and the Hamilton defense forced a punt to set up the game-winning drive. Hamilton would beat Chandler again the 5A-I state semifinals and defeat Mesa for the state title.

Changing of the coach

The "household names" have moved out. Gary Venturo (Corona del Sol), Tim McBurney (Basha), and Jim Jones (Red Mountain) had 75 years of coaching experience, but either the rigors of the job or disagreements with bosses have led them to turn the page. The trio has combined for and five state championships. McBurney and Jones started their former programs, and while all have said they'd welcome a return to coaching, so far only Jones (defensive coordinator at San Tan Foothills) has a new gig.

Conference realignment

Due to financial concerns, the Arizona Interscholastic Association proposed a new conference alignment that would vary by sport. The measure reduces the number of region and state tournaments and has been met with mostly positive feedback. Individual sports, along with team tennis and badminton tournaments, will undergo the change in the fall, while the remaining team sports will adopt the plan for the 2011-12 school year. Football is the least affected, as there will still be six separate divisions, but sports like boys volleyball and badminton will each have just one state tournament for all teams.

Mesquite fiasco

The Mesquite boys basketball team went 25-5 this season, but Tom Saltzstein is no longer the coach after an acrimonious split. The strange turn of events began on March 27, when Saltzstein sent in a letter of resignation. Three days later, he asked to rescind it, but was denied. Sources said Saltzstein was forced from his post by the Mesquite administration, but athletic director Anthony Scanio denied this was the case. Supporters of Saltzstein subsequently protested on campus and at a school board meeting. There were also rumors that baseball coach Jeff Holland, football coach Mike Reardon and girls volleyball coach Krystal Harris would lose their teaching positions at Mesquite, but all were kept on. Mesquite hired former Highland coach Jon Burns to replace Saltzstein.

Making the move

Each year, a handful of high-profile names transfer schools, and the past 12 months have been no different. It began in the summer, when Highland boys basketball stars Matt Carlino and Nick Johnson both left for out-of-state schools. Next, Mountain Pointe boys hoops standout Jahii Carson switched to Mesa. Then came the football players, once their seasons were over. Laveen Cesar Chavez wideout Davonte Neal will play at Chaparral next season, while Malcolm Holland will go from Chandler back to Hamilton - his original high school for two seasons before transferring to Chandler as a junior. Valley Christian star Jordan Morgan won't stay at the school now that his father, Bill, has resigned as the coach. His destination is still to be determined.

'Quitters' flier means suspension

Chandler boys basketball coach Mike Ellsworth was suspended for the final 10 games of the season for posting a flier with the names of four players that quit the team. The Wolves struggled through a difficult season, finishing 8-20. Forward Devirous Johnson said his coach was frustrated with players leaving the team throughout the season. "We had a lot of kids quit and he got sick of it, so he put (the flier) in the locker room," Johnson said at the time. "He was trying to make a point about not quitting. He feels like, once you start something, you have to finish it. Don't start something and quit on yourself. That's why he put it out there." Assistant Kyle Darr took over as coach for the remainder of the year, but Ellsworth is expected to return next season.

Heartbreak for Highland

It was going to be hard to top Desert Mountain's 5A-II championship soccer run, or Corona del Sol's surge to the 5A-I title game, but the 5A-I semifinals between Xavier and Highland was some kind of soccer. Removing any doubt these were two of the three best teams, Highland took an early lead on the No. 1 Gators, but after Xavier tied the score, Highland goalie Tessa Hamberlin redeemed herself by saving Samantha Cummings' penalty kick (her first miss in high school) midway through the second half. It only got more wild. Highland's best defender and Gatorade Player of the Year, Hilary Zenuk, was given a questionable red card in the final minutes of regulation and could only watch. With 16 seconds left, Cummings (who would have been defended by Zenuk in this spot) whirled around from 25 yards out and nailed the game-winning shot just under the crossbar. Even then, Xavier's Annie Graham had to make a save of Ashley Hatch's shot from eight yards out with five seconds left. Xavier went on to defeat Corona del Sol for its second consecutive state championship.

HONORABLE MENTION

•New region alignments shed a few long-standing rivalries and often pitted traditionally strong schools to force slugfests between each other.

•Though reductions remain unavoidable in many instances, the passing of Proposition 100, which institutes a 1-percent sales-tax increase, staves off significant budget cuts and increased expenses which face every schools district's athletic programs.

• The Chandler and Anthem Boulder Creek baseball teams combined for 50 hits and 48 runs in a game on March 26. The Wolves withstood a five-run seventh-inning rally to hold on for a 25-23 victory.

•After years of politicking nationally, the National High School Federation moves the softball mound from 40 feet to 43 feet to conform with college and club ball distances.

•Red Mountain junior Courtney Sherwin hit a two-run home run off Dallas Escobedo in the sixth inning to win the 5A-I softball state championship.

•The Marcos de Niza football team snapped Peoria Centennial's 39-game winning streak with a 16-14 victory in the 5A-II state semifinals. The loss, one of the year's biggest upsets, also ended the Coyotes' run of three consecutive state championships.

• On March 5, the AIA implemented a rule that would force a student-athlete to sit our for a year if he or she followed a club coach to a school.

•Devon Carrington's 60-yard interception return for a touchdown on the play before halftime to give Hamilton a 10-0 lead en route to the 5A-I state championship.

• In mid-August, the National Federation of State High School Associations banned high-tech swimsuits that had led to record performances in high school competition. The suits helped swimmers become more buoyant and led to an unfair advantage for those using them.

• Highland boys basketball coach Scott Lovely was fired after one season on the job. The Hawks went 1-25 after the defections of Carlino and Johnson left the team short on talent and experience.

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