Lady Aztec golfers face new-season challenges
After finishing as one of the top five teams in the Division I state tournament the last three years, Corona’s coach Pat Reed is not sure what will happen this year.
“It will be an interesting season,” said Reed. “We only have two solid returning golfers, senior Brooke Taylor and sophomore Halie Carpenter. Currently who will golf in the three, four and five positions is up for grabs.”
Although nine girls went out for the team this season, only five get to play in each of the sanctioned events. The golfers can change from tournament to tournament, which is a good thing for the girls vying to play varsity golf.
“It’s a day-to-day challenge to see who gets to be one of the five players in each tournament,” said Reed. “Nothing is set in stone. The girls are going to have to step up their game during practice rounds every week to see who will play in those last three positions and even then it could change.”
The Lady Aztecs suffered key loses to graduation last spring.
“Dana Finkelstein, who led our team most of her four years in high school and took sixth in the 5A-I tournament last spring, is now playing at the University of Nevada Las Vegas,” said Reed. “We also lost Alex Haun (who is) now playing at Mesa Community College.”
The Lady Aztecs do have returning golfers in addition to Taylor and Carpenter. Heather Harry, Isabel Ramos and Heather Hittenberger will be competing to play in one of the three open spots along with newcomers Kelly Lebb, Kerry Lorenz and Katy Consoer.
“Kerry Lorenz quit volleyball as a senior to play golf, so I’m hoping that turns out well for her and the golf team,” said Reed.
Reed is expecting her returning players to have improved a lot over the summer but also realizes that the team has a lot of new players.
“We need the new players to drop 10 strokes each in the next month if we are going to reach our goal of finishing in the top five at state,” said Reed. “One thing in our favor is that we all like each other.”
Reed expects the top two teams in the state, Hamilton and Xavier, to continue their dominance, but Desert Vista and Basha may be fighting, along with Corona, for the next three places.
The Lady Aztecs had a busy week, playing Aug. 24 at Perry and Campo Verde, Aug. 29 with Desert Vista and Hamilton and Aug. 31 at Boulder Creek. Next they will compete against Mountain Pointe and Red Mountain on Sept. 7 and play in the Antiqua Tournament Sept. 9-10.
Corona’s badminton coach Katie Chance, in her second year at the helm, is predicting a competitive but rewarding season for her squad.
“I have very high expectations for this season,” said Chance. “We are a tough team and we will be playing tough competition, so it will be fun to see how it pans out. I know there is a lot of excitement from the team for this season to get under way.”
The Lady Aztecs return four starters from last year’s team. All are seniors with loads of experience.
“We are lucky to have four senior athletes, Alexis Emerson, Rachel Gur Arie, Emma Reeve, and Haley Jackson, who have competed at the top levels in state,” said Chance. “We also have some very tough juniors to finish off our varsity roster. One junior, Crystal Li, has made big improvements from last season and will be a huge asset to the team this year.”
Corona has an extremely tough regular season schedule set up to prepare the team for state, according to Chance. The Lady Aztecs have a much different schedule from past seasons, partly due to new regions and the new state tournament format.
Regardless of their schedule, Chance is looking to get the team back into the finals of the 5A state tournament and a chance to once again win the championship as Corona did in 2008. As defending 5A champions in 2009, Corona dropped to the No. 10 seed and lost in the first round to No. 7 Red Mountain.
Last season, Chance’s first year as head coach, Corona made a move to get back into the top five by coming into the state tournament as the No. 4 seed before losing to No. 1 and eventual champion Xavier in the quarterfinals. Chance is expecting more this season from her team.
“Our main strength will be we have an older, more mature team this year,” said Chance.
“We have strong leadership from our four seniors, who are excellent mentors. They are not only helping the younger girls prepare to compete at the varsity level this season but to take the reins for next year.”
Having four seniors with loads of experience should give the Lady Aztecs an advantage, but the team’s main weakness may be a lack of experience playing doubles together.
“We will have all new doubles teams this year, so we will have to make the transition of learning to play with different partners,” said Chance. “Having said that, Alexis Emerson and Rachel Gur Arie are mentally prepared for the season and should be top placers in state,” she said.
Chance is anticipating the Lady Aztecs’ toughest competition in the region to come from Chandler and Mountain Pointe.
“Both of these teams have returning players, so we will have our work cut out for us,” said Chance. “I still predict our team to finish ahead of these two teams, though.”
As far as the state competition goes, Chance thinks Corona’s main competition will likely come from the defending state champions, Xavier and then Chaparral, Mountain Pointe, Chandler and Millennium, all teams the Lady Aztecs play in the regular season.
The Lady Aztecs will get their first challenge of the season playing at Desert Vista on Aug. 30. They then have four matches at home: Sept. 1 against Combs; Sept. 7 against Dobson; Sept. 13 against Chaparral; and Sept. 14 against Desert Vista.
The Aztecs were on target to open a new football season Aug. 26. The good news is that Corona gets to start anew with a different coach after a dismal 10-1 finish last year. The bad news is that they will be playing a team that not only won nine games last season but is reputed to be faster and more physical than ever: Basha.
Add to the equation Basha’s senior quarterback, who is said to be one of the best in the state, and numerous returning players at key positions. Oh, and the Aztecs will be playing on the Bear’s home field.
But wait, Corona has some weapons: a highly recruited offensive lineman, one of the state’s best defensive linemen, two strong running backs, one of the top kickers and punters in the state and a coach who is a proven winner.
Senior Andrus Peat, the highly recruited 6-foot-7, 308-pound son of former Cardinal player Todd Peat Sr., alleged to be one of the best offensive lineman in the nation, will also play on the defensive side of the ball to help stop Basha’s running game.
Senior Avery Moss, the Corona basketball player who recently made headlines as another highly recruited football player out of Corona as a defensive lineman, has been designated by head coach Tom Joseph to play tight end also.
The Aztecs have two returning bright spots on offense from last season in Dominic Mercurio and Zach Hamm.
Playing both running back and receiver, Mercurio led the team in carries and touchdowns. He carried the ball 185 times for 532 yards and four touchdowns. As a receiver, he had 28 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Altogether he scored 42 of the team’s 119 points over the season.
Hamm, playing both running back and linebacker, was also the team’s leading kickoff returner with 16 returns for 264 yards. Hamm led the team in total tackles with 92, or 8.4 per game.
Zac Von Allworden, the only punter and kicker for Corona last season, punted the ball 62 times over the season, averaging more than 30 yards per punt. He was the second leading scorer on the team, with 12 of his 27 points coming on point-after kicks while the other 15 were from field goals.
The Aztecs also have a reputable coach in Joseph, who is probably best known for his career at Mesa Mountain View where he compiled a 70-28 record over the past seven years, averaging over 10 games a season. During his nine-year tenure his teams won a 5A state championship and appeared in three state title games.
Corona football players and fans may need to be patient, but Joseph is a step in the right direction to get Corona’s program back on track. Friday’s game at Basha will be the first step on what may shape up to be a long but respectable season for Aztec football.