That Jan. 27 win, 3-2 over Desert Vista, represented the first region title for coach Aztec coach Dan Salas.
After losing to Chandler, the Aztecs finished the regular season 12-0 and earned the No. 1 seed in the State 5A Division I tournament.
Chandler, losing four out of its last five matches, ended the regular season with a 7-5 record but made it in as the 16th seed after earning considerable power points by beating Hamilton and Highland earlier in the season.
The Aztecs barely beat out Red Mountain for the No. 1 seed (90.4167 to 90 power points) and were in the top half of the draw, while Red Mountain, in the bottom half, easily beat Dobson 4-0 Feb. 3.
Ending up as the No. 1 seed apparently did not prove to be the best position for Corona going into the state tournament.
Many Valley soccer fans had thought that Corona’s first-round match against No. 16 Chandler would be a potentially difficult game. The assumption was that Chandler might be the Cinderella team that could potentially win it all. It was the first time a No. 16 seed had beaten a No. 1 seed in the 5A-I state tournament.
The Aztecs got to the top of the rankings and won Central region outright by having incredible depth on their team and by playing solid defense.
Corona beat Central region rival Mountain Pointe 6-1 Jan. 23, with goals by Dan Van Vleet, Nick Cavaretta, Chris Murray, AJ Stojonovic, Kaue Martins and Dylan Harris.
Corona then outplayed Camelback, a solid team with plenty of talent, according to Salas, winning 3-1 on Jan. 26, with strong defensive and outstanding offensive skills.
“The whole defensive back line of Joey Cavaretta, Chris Murray, Kevin Biniazin, Josh Von Alworden and Garrett Baker-Slama have been solid all season,” said coach Salas.
“Each one adds a different talent to the game and the team. The offense was able to score goals by Trever Allen, Dan Van Vleet and Bryan Hoyt.”
Next up for the Aztecs was a rematch of a thriller of an earlier match against Central region rival Desert Vista—except this time it was on the Thunder’s home turf. Corona has several players who are exceptionally good in more than one position this season, evidenced by 11 different players scoring goals.
Most of the time, it came down to Salas finding the right mix of players in the right positions.
“With our team, we have tons of talent to go around,” said Salas. “Against Desert Vista it was a game in which finding the right combination of players was key.
“Once that happened, we just built some momentum. It was just a matter of time after that. We got down, but we had plenty of time to equalize and eventually won 3-2 on a penalty kick by sophomore Nick Cavaretta. The boys just didn’t want to lose.”
Putting everything on the line to beat Desert Vista for the second time was a big confidence booster for the Aztecs. The key to winning this second match may have been just knowing that they could beat Desert Vista and, secondly, staying focused, according to Salas.
Goals scored by Von Alworden, Murray and Nick Cavaretta and the outstanding defensive play of sophomore goal keeper Matt Bersano helped the Aztecs win the game.
“Matt is one of the top goalie in Arizona high school soccer,” said Salas. “He continues to keep us in games with saves he’s supposed to make, and then ones that he’s not. Those are the ones that win games.”
The Aztecs honored their four seniors, Kaue Martins, Matt Widjaja, Jackson Allen and Nic Salhuana at their final home game, a 3-2 win, over Basha Jan. 29.
The good news is that the Aztecs will lose only four players to graduation and can expect to have their core players back next season. They should return 10 varsity players who will be seniors and eight who will be juniors, including goal keeper Bersano.
Coach Salas should benefit from having a young team this season who saw a lot of playing time in various positions all over the field.
Taking games down to the wire may best describe Corona’s basketball team so far this season. The Aztecs have played in 12 games that have been decided by five or fewer points. Seven of those games went into overtime and two have been double-overtime. So Corona has played in nine overtime periods and won five out of seven games, according to coach Sammy Duane.
Early in the season, the Aztecs found themselves on the wrong side of the score in overtime and close games.
Lately, all that experience appears to be paying off because the team has been winning close games, evidenced by beating Mountain Pointe 85-83 in overtime Jan. 27 and then Desert Vista 56-54 in double overtime Jan. 30.
“Andrew Fox tipped in a basket in double overtime for the win against Desert Vista,” said Duane. “We are finding ways to win, and we are executing down the stretch in games.”
The Aztecs need to continue finding ways to win unless they want to be out of the state tournament for the first time since Coach Duane took over six years ago during the 2003-04 season.
They are currently in the 18th power point rankings and have only two options open to get into the state tournament.
“We either need to win the Central Region title, which will give us an automatic qualification, or we need to basically win the rest of our games and get help from other teams losing,” said Duane. “We have been talking up region play as a best-of-four series, and the team has been responding well to this mindset. Either way, win region or win games, will put us in the state tournament.”
To win region, Corona needs to take care of its home court and treat every game as a playoff series. Wins against Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista were on the road. In order to win and make it into the state tournament, the Aztecs will continue to depend on the leadership and solid play of senior guards Andrew Fox and Leland Devlin.
“Leland has been playing well and is as healthy as he has been in two years,” said Duane. “Andrew has been playing solid basketball on both ends of the court lately. He made the key plays in both the Mountain Pointe game, hustling to save a ball from going out of bounds and getting it to David Whitmore for the game winner, and the Desert Vista game where he tipped in the winning basket. Both Leland and Andrew have a great desire to win.”
Other players who have stepped up their game include junior guard Kyle Noon and freshman point guard Calean Robinson.
“Kyle has been very good lately and has stepped up his play and given us great minutes on the boards and scoring for us,” said Duane. “Calean has been outstanding distributing the ball and has really solidified our guard situation.”
The game against Basha on Feb. 3 could have been a huge confidence booster and put the team in a better position to win Central region, but the Aztecs ended up losing that game at home 38-52.
Corona has four more chances to make it into the state tournament in games Feb. 5 at Trevor Browne, Feb. 10 at home against Desert Vista, Feb. 12 at Basha and Feb. 19 at home against Mountain Pointe.
The game at home against Mountain Pointe will be the last time seniors Devlin, Fox, Tory Gomez, Michael Stahl and Grant Walton will have a chance to play in Corona’s Sam Duane Sr. gym.
“The one great thing about our playoff situation: We control our own destiny,” said Duane.
Middle school wrestling
A wrestling tournament held at Marcos de Niza High School Jan. 24 saw wins by wrestlers from several Kyrene middle schools. Jesus Morales won the 125-pound state championship for the KMS Scorpions.
Trysten Griffith (78 pounds), Coleman Griffith (83 pounds) and Billy Clemens (111 pounds) took fourth place in their respective weight classes, wrestling for their club team, Sunkids. Zach Roybal took sixth place in the 104-pound bracket for Kyrene.
Aprende’s Patrick Buck took second place in the 118-pound class, losing a close match 6-8 in the finals, and Zach Turner took fifth place in the 73-pound class.
The middle school state tournament was held at Marana Mountain View High school near Tucson Jan. 30. This tournament is only open to middle schools, not club teams, and more than 50 middle schools were competing for medals.
KMS wrestlers placed sixth out of 53 teams, with Morales taking second in the 125-pound class, Glenn Farina fifth in the 98-pound class, Coleman Griffith fifth in the 83-pound bracket, Trysten Griffith sixth in the 78-pound bracket and Byran Giron sixth in the 180-pound class.